And That’s How Poseidon Saved Christmas

And That’s How Poseidon Saved Christmas December 11, 2021

I was lazily scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day, looking for stuff to get worked up about, when a post from an Italian Witchcraft page jumped out at me:

This is the eve of the feast of Saint Nicholas, patron of the city of Bari. Saint Nicholas had hereditary ties to the priesthood of Zeus/[Jupiter], but, in Bari, may mask veneration of the God Poseidon/Neptune.


So I started poking around on ye olde trusty Internet and read a few articles, and… wow. I’ll be damned if St. Nicholas isn’t Poseidon.

Io evoho ho ho. (Image via Pixabay, with a minor, seasonal restyling.)

I don’t know why I was so surprised, considering the high percentage of Olympians who made the jump to saint veneration: Hermes, as we know, reinvented Himself as St. Expedite; Athena stuck around as St. Barbara, patron of military engineers; and Dionysus adopted the guise of St. Denis, [Ed. Note: I am not making this up] patron saint against hangovers, who is usually depicted holding his own severed head, with vines growing out of his neck.

So… yeah. Totes Catholic.

St. Nicholas has a number of patronages, including children, archers, thieves, prisoners, the wrongly accused, newlyweds, prostitutes, pawnshops, and barrel-makers. But most notably, he’s the patron saint of ships and sailors, and he offers protection against gales and thunderstorms. (St. Emydius is officially the patron saint of earthquakes, but since Poseidon is the Earth-shaker, St. Nicholas will save you from them on request.)

Although Nicholas was the bishop of Myra, his relics were forcibly relocated to the Italian city of Bari in the eleventh century. From there, his veneration spread throughout Europe and gained wild popularity in the Netherlands, where over time, the Greek “Saint Nikolaos” linguistically evolved into Sinterklaas (which is where we get the name Santa Claus).

Nothing to see here. Just an Orthodox bishop dressed in seaweed and brandishing a trident while standing guard over an Alpine lake. The usual. (Image via Pixabay.)

As a sidebar, the three gold balls used in iconography to symbolize St. Nicholas’ generosity were interpreted by the Dutch as oranges, and since oranges were imported from Spain, it was believed that Sinterklaas lived there in the off-season. When you were a kid, did you have an elderly relative who always put an orange in the toe of your Christmas stocking? If so, that’s where that comes from.

I don’t know if the Dutch came up with the various legends around him, or if they originated with Greek Christians, but one way or another, myths about Poseidon definitely got transferred over to St. Nicholas. In fact, a passage from The Odyssey in which Tiresias tells Odysseus to walk inland with an oar until he finds people who don’t know what it is was straight-up lifted and reassigned to St. Nicholas. Additionally, at least one site where Poseidon was historically worshipped is now home to a church dedicated to St. Nicholas.

Oh, and his bones produce water. Which is probably just the result of condensation in a poorly-insulated crypt but still strikes me as a Sea God tie-in.

Plagiarism and leaky remains aside, I’m excited to know that Poseidon found ways to stay in the public imagination well into the common era, if only because I read a lot of books on Grecian art at an impressionable age, and out of all the Gods, it was images of Poseidon that always kind of did it for me. I mean, I’m not saying Poseidon made me gay, but He definitely cemented my lifelong appreciation of bearded, outdoorsy dudes with windswept hair and anchor tattoos.

Poseidon: [smoldering glare]; Twelve-year-old me: “Oh. I… suddenly feel different from other boys.” (Image via Pixabay.)
In retrospect, it makes sense that Young Gay Me would connect with Poseidon, especially considering His son is the God of gay love. And even if the relationship between Poseidon and St. Nicholas isn’t that well-known, it might also make sense that Poseidon’s pansexuality trickled down into His contemporary incarnation, which could explain why a lot of gay men today — at least in the leather community — are overly invested in Santa Claus’ masculinity. And also why everyone lost their shit over the thought of Gender-Neutral Santa.

In case you missed it, back in 2018, an online graphic design firm surveyed 400 people in the US and the UK about how to “rebrand” Santa’s image, and they included a question on whether Santa should be male, female, or gender-neutral. The design firm then selected a portion of the survey responses and had 4000 more people vote on them. Of those 4000, 72% voted for Santa to be male, 17% voted for Santa to be female, and 11% voted for Santa to be gender-neutral.

The whole thing was a PR stunt, and the methodology used in the survey was criminally subjective, but that didn’t stop the firm from releasing their “findings,” which resulted in a hailstorm of frenzied headlines about the dangers of PC culture and a gaggle of angry, conservative pundits clutching their man-pearls. A number of my gay male acquaintances freaked out as well and started frantically sharing links, adding hand-wringing captions like, “When will the Social Justice Warriors stop?!” and “Is nothing sacred?!”

And in response to their privileged histrionics, I broke out some Sharpies and trolled them all through the universal language of Fine Art:

I don’t really understand cryptothings, but I’m pretty sure I created a priceless NFT. (Click to embiggen.)

As you can imagine, I lost a couple of social media friends when I posted that doodle, and I was 100% okay with that. I don’t tolerate transphobia in any form, and since Poseidon has a non-binary partner, I doubt He does either. Nor do I think St. Nicholas, as a patron of the marginalized, would appreciate his modern personage being used in a way that promotes prejudice towards any minority group.

Although I really do wish that I’d been more aware of the parallels between Poseidon and St. Nicholas back then. Because whenever anyone complained about gender-neutral Santa, I could’ve been like, “Well, of course Santa’s not gender-neutral. You’re thinking of Nerites, the God of transmasculine gay men and sea snails. He’s Santa’s… roommate.”

And then I probably would’ve been unfriended a few more times. But in the spirit of giving and giving back, I’d have totally been okay with that too.

A bottle opener my dad gave me as an early stocking stuffer. It was a reference to a truly hysterical family joke about my grandfather’s funeral (you kind of had to be there) but is now blessed by Poseidon as a consecrated implement of the holiday season. Ben is no less than thrilled.

More discord, you say? But of course! Follow Fivefold Law on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Zazzle.

About Thumper
Thumper Marjorie Splitfoot Forge is a Gardnerian High Priest, an initiate of the Minoan Brotherhood, an Episkopos of the Dorothy Clutterbuck Memorial Cabal of Laverna Discordia, a recovering alcoholic, and a notary public from Houston, TX. You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives