The American Christmas is a heady amalgam of traditions, New World and Old. Iconic images, legends, and performances continue to inform our modern celebration of the holiday, which has become an orgy of consumerism. The classic animated special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, which enjoys its 50th anniversary this season, was an early admonition that the holiday was becoming too focused on the material. Typically, TV executives balked at even showing it, but Americans embraced its themes wholeheartedly, and it became an instant icon of the season.
What do the stars have to say about the yuletide spirit, and the people who crafted or influenced our Christmas traditions? There is actually an asteroid “Yule” (#14960), and a “Santa” (#1288) as well!
Albeit that technically, we’re celebrating the birth of the founder of the Christian religion some 2000 years ago, it’s Santa Claus who still takes the main stage in the modern Christmas celebration. This jolly, rotund gift-giver has been a part of the American holiday since Washington Irving first made mention of him in 1809, but it took a biblical professor and seminarian to bring him to life in the way we understand him now.
Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 fantasy poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”, more popularly known by its first line of “’Twas the night before Christmas”, established much of Santa’s iconography—the red suit, the descent down the chimney, and, most importantly, the flying reindeer and sleigh. Born 15 July 1779, Moore’s affinity with the yuletide season is foreshadowed by his natal asteroid Yule at 29 Aries, squaring the 23 Cancer Sun. Christmas is simply a part of him, a central theme of his core being. Yule is also involved in an out-of-sign square to natal Pluto at 2 Aquarius, and Moore, despite his religious roots, began the process of transforming (Pluto) Christmas (Yule) into a popular secular celebration.
Asteroid Santa figures prominently as well: at 15 Virgo, it is exactly semisquare Mercury (the author or storyteller) at 0 Leo, and widely conjunct Jupiter at 22 Virgo, granting Moore’s literary creation enhanced prestige and visibility (as well as providing Moore’s own claim to fame for future generations). But Moore’s Santa was diminutive, a “right jolly old elf.” How did Santa become the larger-than-life, ebullient figure we’re familiar with today?
For that, we can credit two American illustrators, 19th century caricaturist Thomas Nast, and 20th century ad man Haddon Sundblom. The German-born Nast was commissioned to illustrate Moore’s tale in an 1863 edition of children’s poems, beginning a lifetime of artistic renderings of Santa which gradually morphed him from elfin proportions to those of a well-fed robber baron of Nast’s time. Along the way, Nast added crucial elements to Santa’s iconography—his North Pole residence and workshop, the spy glass he used to monitor children across the globe and the resulting “naughty or nice” list, as well as standardizing the red suit, which originally resembled a one-piece “footie” pajama, into the belted and booted two-piece affair we’re familiar with today.
Born 27 September 1840, Nast’s natal Santa at 26 Pisces retrograde broadly opposes his natal Sun/Mercury pairing at 4 and 5 Libra, anchoring the Santa image as part of his core identity. Nast was an illustrator, and Mercury’s accent on detail and precision stands out in his work. Santa is also the Apex of a Yod, or Finger of Destiny, with inconjunct aspects to Nast’s natal Mars at 22 Leo and Venus at 22 Libra, indicating the “fated” importance of this figure in Nast’s creative output and popular acclaim.
Natal asteroid Yule at 22 Capricorn squares that Venus exactly, reflective of the immense anticipation and popularity which greeted Nast’s annual Christmas covers for Harper’s Weekly magazine, which in turn promoted and popularized his particular view of Santa, which became embedded in the American psyche. With Santa, Yule forms the base of a second Yod, Mars at apex, reiterating the importance of yuletide themes for Nast.
Haddon Sundblom took Nast’s iconic image and ran with it, growing his Santa to almost giant proportions. In a series of ads for Coca-Cola, beginning in 1931, Sundblom devised an aggressive sales campaign featuring Santa as “the hardest working person on the planet,” relaxing and rejuvenating himself with a refreshing Coke after his annual gift-giving debauch. Sundblom’s exuberant Santa standardized the red and white suit, giving it a broad black belt and a bright gold buckle, and affirmed Santa’s essential, avuncular joviality by expanding his waistline still further and adding an engaging twinkle in his eyes, set in a ruddy-complexioned face. The image was complete.
Sundblom was born 22 June 1899. His natal Santa at 14 Cancer squares natal Mercury at 10 Cancer, another example of a strong Santa/Mercury contact for an illustrator of the merry gift-giver. Also trine natal Saturn at 19 Sagittarius, Santa’s importance in Sundblom’s career cannot be overstated; it transformed him into perhaps the most successful ad man of his generation. Natal asteroid Yule at 7 Gemini closely conjoins Venus at 8 Gemini, appropriate for Sundblom’s output, more painting than pure illustration, and clearly showing his impact on the culture (Venus) of Christmas (Yule). Pluto a bit further down the celestial road at 15 Gemini confirms the transformative nature of Sundblom’s work.
But such a massive presence could not be confined to a two-dimensional medium, and Santa inevitably became a movie star as well. Several actors who have famously portrayed Santa Claus also show strong placements of asteroid Santa in their birth charts. Edmund Gwenn is perhaps the best known of these, with his enchanting depiction of a doubtful Santa, concerned with his fading presence in the world, in 1947’s “Miracle on 34th Street.” The self-styled Kris Kringle accidentally lands a job as Macy’s store Santa, and when he insists on the veracity of his identity, is forced to defend himself in court to prevent incarceration in a home for the mentally ill.
The film’s producer, 20th Century Fox, had no idea what to do with the quirky property, which premiered in June—hardly prime time for holiday-themed films—because movie audiences were larger in the summer. The studio downplayed the Santa element in their advertising, but the film was such a smash hit that it ran right through Christmas. Gwenn won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance the following March, commenting in his acceptance speech, “Now I know there’s a Santa Claus!”
In his nativity, Gwenn (born 26 September 1877) sports a natal asteroid Santa at 10 Libra, conjunct both the Sun and Mercury at 3 and 4 Libra, making for a cozy fit in his Santa suit, a role he could identify with intimately, from his inner core. Santa is also exactly semisextile Venus at 13 Scorpio, semisquare Uranus at 27 Leo, and forms the Apex of a Yod, or Finger of Destiny, with inconjunct aspects to Neptune at 7 Taurus and a Mars/Saturn combination at 8 and 15 Pisces retrograde. The Yod shows the pivotal, fated importance of the Kris Kringle (asteroid Santa) role to Gwenn’s career (Saturn); the Academy Award (rewards and accolades also Saturn) was the high-water mark of his life as an actor (Neptune), and provided an impetus (Mars) to its final stage. When Gwenn won the award on 20 March 1948, transit asteroid Santa at 8 Pisces was exactly conjunct natal Mars, granting him support in the competition (Mars), while sextile natal Neptune and trine natal Venus, establishing and acknowledging his acting ability and artistry.
More recently, actor Tim Allen has established himself as the modern Santa Claus par excellence. In 1994’s “The Santa Clause”, and in two subsequent films, Allen portrays Scott Calvin, a divorced ad man flailing for direction in his life, until a Christmas Eve mishap with Santa falling from his roof grants him the role of a lifetime. Allen’s conversion from reasonably buff, smooth-shaven 40-something dad into the bearded, roly-poly, white-haired Santa in a span of a few weeks is a comic delight, and the writers inventively re-work much of the traditional Santa iconography and plot elements into a charming confection suitable for its modern setting. “The Santa Clause” was Allen’s first starring movie role, and accelerated his transition from TV (“Home Improvement”) to feature films (“The Santa Clause” was followed a year later by Allen’s voicing of lead character Buzz Lightyear in Disney’s blockbuster “Toy Story”), a pivotal moment in his career development.
In Allen’s (born 13 June 1953) nativity, asteroid Santa at 17 Aries is involved in a dramatic T-Square, exactly squared natal Uranus at 17 Cancer, also squared Mercury at 13 Cancer, and opposed a Saturn/Neptune conjunction at 20 and 21 Libra retrograde. Again we see the themes of storytelling (Mercury), paired with exotic, alien characters (Uranus), combined here with a clear reference to the importance of the Santa role in achieving the fruition (opposition) of his dreams (Neptune) for a full-fledged acting (also Neptune) career (Saturn).
For it is Santa which transforms the major square between Mercury/Uranus and Saturn/Neptune into a T-Square, and provides the release point for that tension: the film career (Neptune/Saturn) achieves its greatest potential (the Full Phase of the opposition aspect) when interacting with a unique, updated story (Uranus/Mercury), and the vehicle for combining these in perfect proportion is Santa Claus. The very title of the film “The Santa Clause” embodies this energy, as it shatters (Uranus) our understanding (Mercury) of the traditional (Saturn) expectation (Neptune) of what is meant when we hear the phonetically identical “Santa Claus,” sans the ‘e’. It separates (Saturn) our senses (Mercury) of sight and hearing, pitting them against each other in a deliciously clever and mentally stimulating way which brings a sort of whimsical enlightenment (Uranus) when we appreciate the thought-provoking (Mercury) phrase meant to challenge our intellectual complacency and provide a welcome jolt to our minds (Mercury) as we mentally somnambulate (Neptune) through life.
So much for Santa. But every do-gooder needs his counterpoint. Perhaps the most infamous anti-Santa figure, without whom our seasonal celebration would be just as incomplete, is the miserly, cold-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge, transformed by the visitation of three admonitory spirits. Created by British author Charles Dickens in 1843’s “A Christmas Carol”, Scrooge rapidly became an antihero of the season, and increased Dicken’s own popularity and visibility immensely, especially with audiences across the pond.
Although Dickens would have related more to Father Christmas than the American Santa, he was certainly aware of him. And taken as a symbol of the Christmas season generally, asteroid Santa makes a strong showing in Dickens astrological chart. Dickens was born 7 February 1812. At 11 Taurus, Santa squares Dicken’s natal Sun at 17 Aquarius, and the yuletide season is a theme Dickens refers to often in his works, including a dozen short stories. Natal asteroid Yule at 28 Aquarius closely trines natal Jupiter at 26 Gemini, indicative of a potential for enhanced reputation and prestige (Jupiter), especially internationally (also Jupiter), via Christmas themes (Yule).
What is perhaps more remarkable is the connection between “A Christmas Carol’s” first publication on December 19, 1843, and Dickens’ natal chart. The Sun at 26 Sagittarius is exactly opposed to Dickens’ natal Jupiter, granting that increase in visibility and popular attention. Transit asteroids Santa and Yule conjoin at 28 and 29 Scorpio, squared natal Yule and inconjunct natal Jupiter, while sextile transit Saturn (career) at 24 Capricorn and squared transit Jupiter (reputation) at 24 Aquarius.
Of course, there is much more to secular Christmas than Santa and Scrooge. Music forms an incredibly important and vital part of the season, and without a doubt, the most iconic yuletide song is Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”, first recorded by Bing Crosby on May 29, 1942. Still rated the best-selling single of all time, the song has been covered literally thousands of times, by countless performers in several languages, and represents the epitome of both Berlin’s and Crosby’s creative efforts. It is virtually impossible to navigate any given December without hearing its melody, whether in original form or a department store’s Muzak.
Upon its completion, an exuberant Berlin reportedly enthused to his secretary,” I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written—heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!” Irving Berlin’s (born 11 May 1888) natal asteroid Yule at 13 Leo exactly squares his Venus/Sun midpoint, broadly in square to both Venus at 5 Taurus and the Sun at 21 Taurus, evoking all the vibrancy and romanticism of that combination.
Bing Crosby’s natal chart shows strong Christmas connections as well. Born 3 May 1903, natal asteroid Yule at 8 Taurus conjoins the 12 Taurus Sun, which is trine to natal Santa at 18 Capricorn. Not only that, but Santa is coming to its station, already at its retrograde degree which would be active less than two weeks later, granting a powerful, “embedded” presence in Crosby’s psyche. Santa is also exactly inconjunct Crosby’s exact natal conjunction of Venus and Pluto at 18 Gemini. By all accounts this manifested as abusive behavior toward intimate family members, but it also shows the power to dramatically impact popular culture, which in this case, came via the venue of a seasonal yuletide classic.
When he first recorded the song on May 29, 1942, asteroid Yule is fresh off a station—at 28 Virgo it’s conjunct transit Neptune and Crosby’s natal Mars (both at 27 Virgo)—and puts a real burst of energy to his career, virtually mesmerizing (Neptune) the public. Transit Santa at 26 Sagittarius is doubly significant; not only does it oppose a transit Mercury/Jupiter conjunction at 25 and 27 Gemini, which conveys a message of an enhanced prestige and public awareness for vocal output, as well as broadening the appeal of both the song and Crosby’s artistry, but it’s exactly conjunct the Galactic Center, a point which, when activated, can grant universal notice and appreciation. Such is surely the legacy of “White Christmas.”
Another singer permanently identified with the Christmas season is Nat King Cole, whose cover of “The Christmas Song” (AKA “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”) remains one of the most beloved classics of the post-War era, as popular today as ever. Born 17 March 1919, Cole has his Sun at 25 Pisces, where it conjoins both Yule at 16 Pisces and Santa at 1 Aries, making him a potent ambassador for holiday cheer. As with Crosby’s “White Christmas”, it’s inconceivable to experience a holiday season without hearing at least one of Nat King Cole’s many Christmas classics.
Andy Williams’ records and annual Christmas shows in the 1960s combined themes of music and the small screen in a highly popular Christmas treat. His song, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” remains the headlining anthem of Philadelphia’s B101 radio Christmas music tradition, consistently voted most popular yuletide song year after year by the radio station’s listeners. Williams was the first to record the song when it premiered in 1963, and his version is still one of the songs most closely identified with him. Williams’ smooth vocal stylings were backed up by his singer brothers, and the show featured family members, from the eldest to the youngest, in an era when Hollywood guest stars were the main fare of TV Christmas specials. Americans responded to the homey atmosphere and took the entire family into their hearts.
Williams was born 3 December 1927. His natal asteroid Yule at 7 Aries is trined the Sun/Saturn conjunction at 10 Sagittarius, and Yule is once again stationary, having turned direct at that degree just 10 days before his birth. Natal Santa at 29 Sagittarius squares a Jupiter/Uranus pairing at 23 and 29 Pisces, and exactly trines Neptune at 29 Leo, combining themes of popularity (Jupiter), TV (Uranus) and music (Neptune), all under the yuletide banner (Santa). The Christmas episodes of “The Andy Williams Show”, airing 1962-1971, were always the most popular of the series, so much so that this tradition was continued as annual specials after the show itself was cancelled.
Other Christmas specials from the ‘60s made an enduring impact on American psyches as well, and continue to be popular to this day. Charles Schulz’ Peanuts gang made the leap from comic strip to animated TV special in 1965 with “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, still one of the most beloved yuletide classics, which this year enjoys its 50th consecutive annual airing. Its themes of anti-commercialism and the religious basis of the holiday were so controversial to network executives that the producer wisely withheld a viewing of the finished product until it was too late to pull it from the schedule. Certain they had a holiday turkey on their hands, the reluctant execs let it air, and were overwhelmed with the popular public response.
First aired on December 9, 1965, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” shows natal Yule once again stationary at 2 Leo (turning retrograde at that degree just ten days earlier), and in exact sesquiquadrate with the 17 Sagittarius Sun. Natal Santa at 26 Libra is closely trine to Jupiter at 27 Gemini, granting popular acclaim and high visibility.
But for Christmas curmudgeons old and young, the be-all, end-all of holiday specials is 1966’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Theodor Geisel’s (Dr. Seuss) Grinch character, voiced by the inimitable Boris Karloff in one of his final performances, takes exception to the noisy yuletide celebrations of his neighbors, the Whos of Whoville, and determines to keep Christmas from coming. In a brilliant merging of the Santa and Scrooge mythos, the cantankerous Grinch dons a fake homemade “Santy Claus suit”, and proceeds to steal back all the largesse deposited in the Whos’ homes by the genuine article. A last-minute change of heart prevents the gifts’ destruction, and a reborn Grinch returns them to their rightful owners, afterward himself joining in the revels.
First aired December 18, 1966, the Grinch sports a close Santa/Sun conjunction at 24 and 26 Sagittarius, on the Galactic Center, and its popularity has never waned. Asteroid Yule at 27 Libra is closely sextile the Sun. CBS repeated the special annually for 20 years, until TNT bought the rights and began airing it multiple times throughout the holiday season, from Thanksgiving though Christmas. Personally, I still watch it every chance I get.
This year the celestial markers look like amping up the yuletide spirit to hyperdrive. On December 25, 2015, transit Santa at 26 Sagittarius will again conjoin the Galactic Center, from where it is also conjunct the 3 Capricorn Sun and squares transit Jupiter, arbiter of social interactions, parties and conviviality, at 22 Virgo; transit Yule at 1 Libra squares the Sun. In the words of Clement Clarke Moore’s Saint Nicholas, “Happy Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!”