Santa Claus Origins

The Origins of Santa Claus
Santa Claus is a blend of an early Christian saint and the Norse god Odin, among other influences.

Early Christian Influence:

Although Santa Claus is originally based upon St. Nicholas, a 4th-century Christian bishop from Lycia (now in Turkey), the figure is also strongly influenced by early Norse religion. Saint Nicholas was known for giving gifts to the poor. In one notable story, he met a pious but impoverished man who had three daughters. He presented the with dowries to save them from a life of prostitution. In most European countries, St. Nicholas is still portrayed as a bearded bishop, wearing clerical robes. He became a patron saint of many groups, particularly children, the poor, and prostitutes.

Odin and His Mighty Horse:

Believe it or not but the traditions of Santa Claus originated as Odin, Alfather. A number of similarities exist between some of Odin's escapades and those of the figure who would become Santa Claus. Odin was often depicted as leading a hunting party through the skies, during which he rode his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. In the 13th-century Poetic Edda, Sleipnir is described as being able to leap great distances, which some scholars have compared to the legends of Santa's reindeer. Odin was typically portrayed as an old man with a long, white beard -- much like St. Nicholas himself.

Treats for the Tots:

During the winter, children placed their boots near the chimney, filling them with carrots or straw as a gift for Sleipnir. When Odin flew by, he rewarded the little ones by leaving gifts in their boots. In several Nordic countries, this practice survived despite the adoption of Christianity. As a result, the gift-giving became associated with St. Nicholas -- only nowadays, most people hang stockings rather than leaving boots by the chimney!


It would seem to me that Santa Claus is just another name for Odin (for which there are many). An alias he donned to survive the onset of Christianity. I would tell this to your children, and have them celebrate it in the old way. With boots filled with straw and carrots for Odin's Horse Sleipnir. And leave presents for them at Jól. Tell them that you never know if Odinn is going to stop by your house for assistance, and providing help on his great hunt will bring blessings to your house.

To learn more about Jól and how it is celebrated check out the main post Jól



A.K.A. Yule

Is the most important part of the year in Asatru. It is a blót associated with the death and resurrection of Baldr, the return of summer with the ride of Freyr, and the great hunt of Odinn. Jól signifies the beginning and end of all things; the darkest time during the year and the brightest hope of re-entering the world. It's a time of year when our deceased Ancestors are closest to us.

The story goes, that Baldr has a dream of his own death, and so does his mother Frigg. So Frigg asks all of nature to promise not to harm him. Unfortunately, in her haste, Frigg overlooks the mistletoe plant, so Loki - the resident trickster - took advantage of the opportunity and fooled Baldr's blind twin, Hod, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe. Óðinn later restored him to life. As thanks, Frigg declared that mistletoe must be regarded as a plant of love and eternal life, rather than death. But as punishment for harming Baldr it is banished to only grow in trees and not on the ground.

It is said that mistletoe now has the ability to resurrect the dead.

It is said that the death of Baldr shall bring in the Fimbulwinter. The great winters without summers in-between. And after three Fimbulwinters shall Ragnarök begin.

So ever year during Midwinter, when the days start to get longer and we know summer is going to return, there is a 12 days festival where the evergreens are honored and decorated for the return of fertility and offerings are burned to thank the gods for the return of the sun. It is not uncommon however to start the festivities before the Solstice, so the entire Jól tide lasts for an entire month, with large meals, decorations, and bonfires for the entire season.

During the festivities giant sunwheels were constructed, and set on fire. These flaming sunwheels are rolled down a hill to represent the return of the sun. Also great bonfires are commonplace.
Another tradition is the Jól Log. The Jól Log is a giant oak tree that was chosen earlier in the year, and is decorated with sprigs of fir, holly and yew. Runes are carved on it asking the gods to protect the family from misfortune. This log is used to burn during the entire 12 day celebration. A piece of the log is saved to protect the home during the coming year, and to light the Jól log next year.

The evergreens that decorate the homes also bring fertility, especially the holly and mistletoe. Evergreen trees are decorated and honored with food, cloth, and carved runes. This pleases the tree spirits and helps them prosper during the next year. One great evergreen tree might be chosen as a wish tree for Óðinn. There people can decorate the tree with their wishes.

During this time Óðinn also goes on his great hunt, during which he bears the name Jólnir. It is this time when Óðinn travels over Miðgarðr that we are closest to the realm of the dead, so one must be aware of draugr. As Jólnir rides over the world on his flying, eight legged horse Sleipnir it is best to help him out if you can. Those who help Jólnir out on his hunt are given protection and luck for the next year, while those who scoff at the hunt are cursed. You would never know if he is going to seek assistance at your house so before you go to bed it is best to at least leave your boots full of straw and carrots as feed for Sleipnir. At Midwinter eve (when the hunt is at its fullest) someone should represent Jólnir, and dress as him (with a hooded fur coat, eyepatch, and a long white beard). This person should be welcomed into the home and join the festivities. These festivities include a feast eaten as a family which usually consists of roast pork, mutton, roast duck, roast goose, or stuffed turkey with potatoes, red cabbage and plenty of gravy. Dessert is risalamande, a cold rice pudding dish with a hot cherry sauce, traditionally with a whole almond hidden inside. The lucky finder of this almond is entitled to a small gift. A saucer of rice pudding should be left outside for the Nisser (common guardian spirits/elves of the house). After the meal is complete the family will dance around the Evergreen tree and sing Jólsongs. Afterwards, Jólnir will reward you with presents and protection. Presents for the entire household are handed out (by the children) at this time.  After the presents are handed out, everyone enjoys some Gløgg.

It is also said that Thor joins Óðinn on the great hunt. Riding in his wagon being pulled by his two magical goats. It is believed the Jól goat will appear during Jól to make sure the preparations were done right. It is an old custom for young people to dress up in goat skins and go from house to house and sing and perform simple plays. They were rewarded with food and drink. This is reminiscent of the story of when Thor visits a small farm on his journeys. Thor then kills and cooks his goats and their flesh provides sustenance for the god and his guests. The skins and bones are kept unbroken and the next day Thor resurrects them with his hammer. Goats made of straw and red ribbons are also a common decoration on Jól trees. Large versions of which are also commonly used as town decorations. 

After the great hunt (Midwinter day) the entire community gathers together for the great feast (Jólablót) in the Hof. The great feast was a potluck dinner and everyone shall partake in the drinking of ale, lasting from about noon, well into the night. The types of food brought for the feast are: all variety of fish courses, open face sandwiches with herring, deep fried plaice filet with remoulade. Herring courses can include pickled or curried herrings on rugbrød. The fish course usually also include smoked eel and smoked salmon. Next will be a variety or warm and cold meats, such as sausages, fried meatballs, boiled ham, and liver pate served with red or green braised cabbage dishes. Desserts are usually cheese and rice pudding. And all kinds of livestock are sacrificed at the blót (most importantly the Jól Goat). Drinks are toasted, first of which is to Odinn for victory, the second toast is for Njördr and Freyr for good harvest and peace, and the third is a toast to the head of the clan. The deceased ancestors are invited to the feast in spirit, and toasts are also held in their honor.

At the end of the 12th day of the Jól festival there is a Sonarblót held in honor of Freyr, the golden fertility god. A wild boar is sacrificed to assure a good growing season in the coming year. Solemn vows are sworn on the bristles of the boar, this is known as heitsrenging. These oaths are made in the eyes of of the Gods, who will help ensure the success of these vows, but great punishment shall befall anyone who breaks their oaths. The meat is also cooked and eaten at the feast.

Jól is a sacred holiday where no one shall kill each other, and it is the greatest mirth and joyance among men.