Father Time

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Father Time

Two old men with white beards have come to symbolize the holiday season. The first, Santa Claus, visits homes on Christmas Eve (seealso Father Christmas; Weihnachtsmann). The second, Father Time, appears on New Year's Eve. Father Time, a folk figure that personifies time, represents the passing of the old year. He is usually depicted as an old man with a long white beard. Frequently he carries an hourglass, representing the passage of time, and a scythe (an old farm tool used to cut down ripe wheat), reminding us that all living creatures must die and all things come to an end. On occasion he will be depicted with wings, which stand for the idea that time passes very quickly. As the saying goes, "time flies."

Folklorists believe that Father Time may have evolved from an ancient Greek god called Kronos (also spelled Cronos or Chronos). Indeed, chronos is the Greek word for "time." The association between Kronos and time, however, does not seem to have existed in the ancient world but rather seems to have sprung up in later ages, due to the similarity between the god's name and the word for time. Kronos was sometimes depicted in Greek art with a curved implement in his hand, resembling a sickle.

At one time the god Kronos ruled the heavens and earth. He gained this position by displacing his father, Uranus, whom he castrated with an instrument similar to a sickle. After defeating his father Kronos married his sister, Rhea, and began to have children by her. He learned, however, that in the future one of his own children would displace him. In an attempt to avoid this fate he swallowed his children as soon as they were born. His wife managed to hide the last of her children, Zeus, from her husband and thus Zeus lived to adulthood. As predicted, Zeus eventually challenged his father's rule and overcame his father in battle. Zeus forced Kronos to cough up the children he had swallowed and so Zeus regained his brothers and sisters: Hestia, Demeter, Hades, Hera, and Poseidon.

When the Romans heard these tales they decided that Zeus was the god they knew as Jupiter, while Kronos was another name for their deity Saturn. According to Roman legend, when Jupiter defeated Saturn in battle, Saturn left Rome and retreated to Italy. There he brought about an era of peace, plenty and equality that lived on in legend long after it had ended on earth. The Romans celebrated the joys of this golden age in the midwinter festival called Saturnalia.

Further Reading

Barnett, Mary. Gods and Myths of Ancient Greece. New York: Smithmark, 1996. Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston, Mass.: Little Brown and Company, 1942. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mytholo-gy, and Legend. San Francisco, Calif.: Harper and Row, 1984.

Father Time

personification of the old year. [Folklore: Misc.]

Father Time

classic personification of time with scythe and hourglass. [Art: Hall, 119]
See: Time
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