We all know Santa Claus, fat jolly man who brings presents to good kids and and lumps of coal to the bad ones.
Over the years he has gone through a few different guises and we can trace him back to a very surprising historical character.
The main characteristics of Santa Claus today are the long white beard, mode of transport and his present giving.
The Santa Claus we know is based on the Sinterklaas who was a traditional Winter holiday figure predominantly in the Netherlands. The Dutch colonials, following the American War of Independence, revived their Sinterklaas tradition as a symbol of their non-British past and Sinterklass was merged with the religious overtones of the Christian Saint Nicholas.
The legend of Sinterklass who rode around on a white horse, wore a long white beard, carried a staff and had children leaving their boots full of carrots and straw near the chimney for his horse to eat was taken directly from the Norse God Odin who was worshipped in North and Western Europe prior to Christianisation.
Odin rode the sky with his grey horse, a long white beard, carried a spear and rewarded children with gifts who placed their boots near the chimney for his flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat.
It is from these pagan 'Yule times' that many of the Christmas traditions began, incorporated into the Christmas we have today such as Christmas trees and the date 25th December which was originally Yule when the pagans celebrated the shortest day during the winter solstice and willed the sun to return.
Odin himself was the Germanic adoption of the Celtic deity Lugus, introduced to the Germanic tribes by the Celtic tribes of central Europe.
Lugus, patron of trade and commerce, was just the updated Celtic version of the Roman God Mercury and the Romans messenger Mercury was the Greeks Hermes, the wing sandal wearing messenger of the gods, guide to the Underworld and patron of shepherds, literature, poets and commerce.
So there we have the story of Santa Claus who began life as the messenger of the Ancient Greek Gods circa 750 BC and went through Mercury, Lugus, Odin, and Sinterklaas to the guy due to pop down the chimney in a few days time.