Originally, Osiris ruled the world we live in as a king. He was the great-grandson (some say son) of Ra, the great sun-lord from whom all blessings flow. Set, Osiris’ brother, was unhappy with this brother, and killed him by crafting a fantastic trap – a box that may very well have looked like a beautifully wrapped gift box. When Osiris opened the box, Set was able to capture him inside with no hope of escape. Setting the box adrift upon the Nile, Set claimed the throne for himself.
Unsurprisingly, the murderer proved a hard lord and was not favored by his great-grandfather or other relatives. However, Osiris’ wife, Isis, had been busy searching for the box among the river reeds, and found it one day.
The box had become lodged in the roots of a bush which had grown and grown until it resembled a mighty forest tree, a cedar or redwood, an evergreen in the desert. Pouncing upon the gaily decorated box nestled in the base of the green tree, she tore it open to find the dessicated corpse of her husband, the once-mighty Osiris. Weeping (for it can be hard to see relatives at this time of year), she carried it home.
In time, the spirit of Osiris passed within Isis and together they conceived a child, Horus, and his mother hid him from the gaze of his jealous and bloody uncle.
Given hope by this, Isis sought out Thoth, a great wizard, and together they spoke to the spirit of Osiris, hoping to call his spirit into his empty flesh. However, Set struck without warning or mercy and dismembered and shredded the body into uncountable fragments, flinging them far and wide over the fertile delta of the Nile. After bitter struggle, Isis and Anubis were able to reassemble the body, sewing it together again with only the sharpest needle and only the finest thread. It is this tradition we enact when we hang our stockings by the chimney with care. The row of disembodied feet echoes both Osiris’ discorporation and the many trampings to and fro of Anubis and Isis. The fact that they are sewn things, made with needle and thread, provides a reminder of the careful reassembly of the body once gathered.
The spell was cast and Osiris rose again from the dead to join the living. Yet his sojourn here was short and he passed on to the land beyond this one, where the dead pass when it is their time. There he stands in judgment over the souls of the dead. He commends the just to the Blessed Land, but the wicked he condemns to be devoured by Ammit.
On his birthday, some say December 25 (others differ, but place it in late December), he can be seen in the northern sky, riding out in his chariot over all the Earth to survey it. He is said, also, to take our measure in life over the night of his birth; coming in spirit down the chimney, to review our houses and weigh our souls in preparation for the day or night he may meet us.
We erect a tree and mock the hollow anger of Set with our gaily wrapped presents, nestled beneath the branches in token of the immortal world and fate which awaits us.
It’s possible you may have heard some aspect of these traditions as deriving from other religions. Do not be fooled. Osiris Claus is the One True Claus, and from his workshop at the North Pole, he knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so, be good, for the Nile harvest’s sake.