Scholars have argued for more than a century that the contemporary figure of Santa Claus derives at least some of his attributes from the old Norse/Germanic god Odin/Wotan, especially the long white beard, the midnight flight across the winter sky, etc. One of the more interesting sidelights into the Santa/Odin parallels is the case of the respective supernatural beings' steeds.
Santa, as everyone knows, drives a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer. Interestingly, Odin rode a horse that had eight legs named Sleipnir. In old Germanic traditions, on the night of the Wild Hunt, when Odin rode Sleipnir across the winter sky to lead the souls of the dead to the underworld, children were said to leave out sugar and hay for Sleipnir in boots by the chimney, for which "Odin" would leave small gifts. In turn, this tradition derived from the folk practice of leaving a few stalks of wheat standing in the field at harvest time as an offering for Sleipnir. Eventually such traditions became the stockings in which Santa leaves presents in exchange for the cookies and milk left for him (and sometimes a carrot for the reindeer). (There was, of course, a great deal of Christian influence when St. Nicholas began to substitute for Odin.)
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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