How Old is Santa Claus?

Santa Claus is depicted as a jolly old man with a white beard. He looks like he could be anyone's grandfather, but how old is he really?

Santa Claus as we know him is the accumulation of many different stories from different cultures over the years. Just when you think you've found his origin, there's a different story dating back that references another version of Santa Claus.

One very old version of Santa Claus was Father Christmas, an English folklore figure that's considered to be the first known English personification of Christmas. This figure started appearing in English carols in the 15th century. In his early interpretation, he announced the birth of Jesus and encouraged everyone to drink in celebration. Later, in the 16th century, he would be described as an old man that carried bread and the leg of a lamb.

Father Christmas was first talked about in 1435. This means that he would be over 580 years old.

However, this isn't the oldest interpretation of an old man with a white beard that's associated with Christmas. Even further back than the 15th century, there's mentions of Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is a legendary figure from the Netherlands that rides a white horse and gives gifts on December 5th. The feast of Sinterklaas is also celebrated in northern France, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

The feast of Sinterklaas began in the Middle Ages, a period that started around the late 5th century and ended somewhere in the late 15th century. The Middle Ages started after the fall of Rome, around 500 C.E., which would make Santa more than 1,500 years old.

A little before the rise of Slinterklaas, there was a figure that dates back to over 2,000 years ago. This figure was Odin, the Nordic god of war and of the dead. Germanic pagans used to celebrate a midwinter festival called Yule, which is the modern version of Odin's name in Old Norse. It is widely believed that Yule is connected to the Wild Hunt, a folklore theme involving ghostly apparitions in the sky.

During the Wild Hunt, there is an increase of supernatural activity, so Germanic pagans would celebrate by drinking, holding a feast, and sacrificing animals. The Wild Hunt was led by Odin himself as he rode an 8-legged horse.

Around the late 4th century, the Christianization of Germanic people began. Germanic paganism and Christian beliefs began mixing over time, and although Christmas became the prominent winter celebration over Yule, much of Father Christmas' appearance and general concept is based on Odin. Odin was always depicted as an old man with a long white beard. He often traveled around on his 8-legged steed and gave gifts.

If you're wondering why Christians would adopt the image of a pagan god to be their Christmas icon, it's because of their reverence for the one saint that is considered to be the oldest iteration of Santa Claus.

Some time before the Christianization of Germanic people, Christians already had a lot of love for Saint Nicholas of Myra. Saint Nicholas was a Christian bishop that was known for his kindness and for giving away gifts. He was born on March 15th, 270 A.D. and died on December 6th, 343 A.D..

After his death, Christians across Europe celebrated him on December 6th every year. The day would be marked by feasting and gift-giving. In case you haven't notice, Sinterklaas is based off of Saint Nicholas. When Christianity was brought to the Germanic pagans, Saint Nicholas' personhood merged with Odin's image in the minds of the people.

Since Saint Nicholas is the start of it all, it's safe to say that Santa Claus is over 1,700 years old.

Now, that's how old Santa Claus is in folklore. How old modern-day Santa is (with all of his iconic imagery) is a different story. The two pieces of work that helped create Santa as we know him today are the 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and the illustrations from Thomas Nast for the magazine Harper's Weekly in 1863.

The 1823 poem, written by Clement Clarke Moore, helped the American public see Santa Claus as a jolly old man with red cheeks, dressed in fur and riding a sleigh led by reindeer. Then, Thomas Nast sealed the deal by submitting 33 illustrations that depicted Santa in red furs and living in the North Pole. Depending on whether you want his birthday to be on the year of the poem's publication or the year of the first magazine publication, modern-day Santa is 160-200 years old.