Old Kris, by N.C. Wyeth, 1925. http://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2011/12/old-kris.html
Illustration by John Leech, 1849. http://thesantavideo.com/blog/tag/father-christmas/
St. Nicholas of Myra, 13th Century painting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:St_Nicholas_Icon_Sinai_13th_century.jpg
Odin the Wanderer, by Georg Von Rosen, 1886. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Georg_von_Rosen_-_Oden_som_vandringsman,_1886_(Odin,_the_Wanderer).jpg
Imaginary? Maybe. But he’s a jolly old fat man who has been with us throughout our entire lives, and his lineage stretches back more than 1,000 years.
Odin, sometimes known as Woden, Wodan, Wotan or the
wanderer, is a mythic figure with legendary and folkloric
origins, who is the major god in most all branches of Germanic
mythology, especially Norse mythology. He is the Allfather of
He is generally depicted as a tall, white bearded man,
sometimes with a tall floppy hat and a staff and dressed in a
long blue gray cloak. He is regarded as a “guide of souls” and
considered the god who brought poetry to mankind.
From his throne he observes all that happens in the world, His
two ravens, Thought and Memory, fly over the world each day
and report back on what has happened. He is accompanied by
his eight-legged horse Sleipnir and by the wolves Freki and Geri.
Odin is associated with the midwinter event of Yule and children
place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar, near the
chimney for Odin’s flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin rewards
those children for their kindness by replacing the food with gifts
With the arrival of St. Nicholas in Europe, the two figures
gradually merged until many of the elements of Odin's legend
became part of the story of Nicholas.
Saint Nicholas, sometimes known as Nicholas of Myra or Nicholas the
Wonder Worker, is a historical Christian Greek bishop of Myra in
Lycia (Turkey). He has a reputation for secret gift giving, such as
putting coins in the shoes of those who leave them out for him, and a
reputation for protecting children.
He is commemorated and revered among Anglican, Catholic,
Lutheran and Orthodox Christians and is the patron saint of sailors,
merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, pawnbrokers and
A short man, barely five feet tall, he has a broken nose, well-trimmed
hair and beard, dresses in bishop’s robes and often carries the
traditional pastoral staff (crozier) and ceremonial head-dress (mitre)
of a bishop. He is trim and thin.
Because of his popularity as a saint, his feast day is celebrated
annually on December 6th, sometimes with gifting to family and
With the arrival of Santa Claus in America, the two figures began
to merge until Saint Nicholas has become the historical
predecessor to Santa Claus.
Father Christmas, sometimes known as Sir Christmas, Old Father
Christmas or Old Winter, is a mythic figure with legendary,
historical and folkloric origins who, in many European cultures,
especially Great Britain, does not bring gifts for children, but
rather, wanders around from home to home during the Christmas
season knocking on doors and feasting with families, before
moving on to the next home.
He often appears as a large man, in good physical shape, with red
beard and hair, no mustache and an open long green robe (a sign
of returning spring) trimmed in white fur at the cuffs and around
Father Christmas represents the joyous spirit of benevolence and
good cheer during the holiday season, and is popular in Great
Britain, Wales, Canada, France, Spain, South America, Romania,
Turkey, Hungary and Bulgaria.
With the arrival of Santa Claus in America, the two figures
began to merge until one cannot be told from the other, both
taking on the appearance and obligations most associated
with Santa Claus.
Santa Claus, sometimes known as St. Nick or Kris Kringle, is a
mythic figure with legendary historical and folkloric origins
who, in many Western cultures, is said to bring gifts to the
homes of good children during the night before Christmas.
He is generally depicted as a portly, joyous, white bearded
man, sometimes with spectacles, wearing a red coat with white
collar and cuffs, white cuffed red trousers, and black leather
belt and boots and who carries a bag full of gifts for children.
He is believed to make a list of children throughout the world,
categorizing them according to their behavior (naughty or
nice) and delivers presents, including toys and candy, to all of
the well-behaved children, and sometimes coal to the naughty
children, on the single night of Christmas Eve when he comes
down the chimney.
Santa Claus accomplishes these feats by living in secrecy at
the North Pole. He is aided by elves who make the toys in the
workshop, the flying team of reindeer who pull his sleigh, and
his wife Mrs. Claus.