3. Father Christmas or Santa Claus Started Life as a Pagan God
Next to Jesus Christ, Father Christmas takes center stage of the Christmas celebrations. Today, he is celebrated as the central gift giver but in times gone by; he was a distillation of the spirit of Christmas. Christian tradition gives the original Father Christmas a saintly origin. He is St Nicholas, a benign and kindly Christian saint who in the fourth century was the Bishop of Myra in modern Turkey. As bishop, Nicholas gave out gifts to the poor and needy. This charitable act was recalled by the giving of gifts on December 6th, St Nicholas Day. The church commemorated the Bishop with the medieval custom of the boy bishop who was elected to reign over Christmas until December 28th.
However, there are plenty of pagan candidates for the original Father Christmas. The figure of Saturn himself is one, as is the god Odin who was reputed to drive a sleigh drawn by reindeers. The tradition of leaving mince pies and a glass of milk for Santa Claus also has its roots in the Scandinavian custom of making sacrifices to mark the coming of spring. Some of the other candidates are females, such as La Befana, the kindly Italian witch who delivered presents by broomstick or Frau Holle who gave women gifts at the winter solstice. Any or all of these pagan characters influenced the image of Father Christmas we have today.