(Original Article or )
Phyllis Siefker, in her book Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years, sees parallels between the Norse god Odin and Santa. The Germanic winter festival of Yule had many traditions attached to it that we would associate with Christmas today, including caroling and decorating evergreen trees. A Yule custom in which children would put straw for Odin’s eight legged horse into their boots and set them in front of the fire place only to find them filled with candy and toys the next morning seems to have led to the tradition of Christmas stockings today. Odin was, after all, a shape shifting wizard, able to sneak in and out under the cover of night. Saint Nicholas, it seems, was not gifted with such powers, though his love of cookies was notorious.
In the early 20th century, Santa’s appearance began lose it’s rough around the edges wizard look and more like the child friendly fat man we think of as Santa today. This look was aided, though not invented, a very popular series of ads by the Coca-Cola company.