Santa Claus And Gandalf Have The Same Origin

“The rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care.” —Gandalf, The Return of the King

In A Nutshell

Santa Claus is one of the most recognizable images in the world. Gandalf, a wizard, is a central character in J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings books. Both figures derive their backstories from Odin, the Norse supergod.

The Whole Bushel

According to Norse mythology, Odin is the leader of the gods and father to comic book hero Thor. Odin is all powerful and often associated with war, witchcraft, death, wisdom, and pretty much everything else you can attribute to a deity.

When Odin wished to travel among the mortals without being noticed, he assumed the guise of a traveler and is often referenced as “Odin the Wanderer” (or sometimes “Vegtam the Wanderer”). In this state, he is frequently portrayed as an old man with a long beard and a wide brimmed hat, carrying a staff.

In a letter in 1942 and a biography in 1977, J.R.R. Tolkein revealed that his inspiration for Gandalf came from two sources. The first was a painting in the form of a postcard called “Der Berrgeist,” which depicted an old man with a long beard and wide hat sitting in the woods. The second source is Odin, as Tolkein once described Gandalf as an “Odinic wanderer.” The name “Gandalf” also has roots in Norse history and may be a loose translation of the Norse words for “staff” and “elf.”

Most people are familiar with the name and image of Santa Claus. Also known as St. Nick, Kris Kringle, and Father Christmas, he is generally associated with bringing children gifts on Christmas. Much like Gandalf, Santa’s inspiration came from more than one source. The most obvious is St. Nicholas, a Greek bishop who lived in the third and fourth centuries. St. Nicholas was known as a very generous person and often gave to those in need. It is most likely from this generosity that we get Santa’s ritual of giving gifts to the good children (lumps of coal for naughty children came much later).

Through the centuries after St. Nicholas died, his legacy evolved and blended with other traditions. By the 17th century in Holland, he was known as “Sinterklaas” and was portrayed as an old man with a long beard and staff (sound familiar?). At this time, Sinterklaas was associated with the ancient pagan holiday Yule. Sometime around the winter solstice (which is a few days away from modern Christmas), Sinterklaas would ride through the sky on his white, eight-legged horse and celebrate the defeat of evil. Over the years, Sinterklaas’s eight-legged horse became eight flying reindeer.

In Norse mythology, Odin was often seated upon his own white, eight-legged flying horse named Slepnir. Also on the solstice, Odin was known to enter homes through fire holes (chimneys) and reward those loyal to good and against evil. Children would put their shoes near the fire and Odin would fill them with candies and treats. This tradition continued with Sinterklaas and eventually with Santa Claus filling stockings with toys on Christmas morning.

The current commonly accepted image of Santa Claus is itself a combination of two sources. The first is the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (“The Night Before Christmas”), by Clement Clark Moore. Thomas Nast, the illustrator for the poem, was the first to portray Santa wearing a red suit. The second source is a series of Coca-Cola advertisements from the 1920s and 1930s that showed the more rotund and jolly Santa Claus that we’re familiar with today.

Show Me The Proof

The Silmarillion Writers’ Guild—Gandalf
Selections from The Annotated Hobbit—Origins of Gandalf
St. Nicholas Center—Who is St. Nicholas?
The Pagan’s Path: Who is Santa Claus?

  • In the Netherworld, we traditionally celebrate Sinterklaas on dec. 5th. After he’s gone back (by ship) to where he came from, in pops Santaclaus, the coca cola version, and ruins Christmas with an abundance of sleigh-bell sounds, teeth-shattering sweetness and glossy commercials. It’s all very confusing.

    • Rainer Spott

      In Germany it is similar. We distinguishe between der Heilige Nikolaus on 5th/6th of December and der Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas) on Dec 24’s eve, although they are similar and get mixed up a lot.

    • Hadeskabir

      That looks like a funny horror movie. Reminds my of the 2005 movie Santa’s Sleigh.

  • Hillyard

    A link between Odin, Santa and Gandalf. Really? It seems to me that the writer is stretching things a bit thin here. I can see Tolkein basing his character somewhat on Odin, but to tie that to the St. Nicholas/Sinterklaas myth seems a little much.

    • Rainer Spott

      Well, you have to take into account Father Christmas from Germany and Ol’ Father Frost from Russia to get a connection apart from Christian mythology.

      • Blue

        I dont get this one, Christians usurped the pagan traditions of Yule and the Wild Hunt which is mentioned in the article (although badly) and used the same holidays as their own whilst trying to indoctrinate the Europeans.

        Many of the things we still celebrate can be traced back to the Yuletide celebrations and of course the St Nicholas myth that enables Christian mythology is a direct result of this pagan tradition, retconned by the early church to include the “Giftbringer” of earlier folklore.

        So we have ended up with a confused holiday that supposedly celebrates the Christ myth by linking it to the Giftbringer Norse mythology and then of course other inferences on top. Father Christmas is really a 16th century English tradition where his holiday was moved from the 6th December traditional gift giving day of St Nicholas to match the 25th December of Christmas (or Christ’s birth – regardless of calendar modification throughout history).

        Santa Claus (Sinterklaas) is different again and has only recently been directly linked with Father Christmas. Fascinating area this if you like how pagan folklore and various other religious ceremonies/myths have influenced and have been retconned in by the Christians over time.

    • Hadeskabir

      It’s Christmas season so writers just pull articles about Christmas out of their arses.

    • Blue

      Tenuous just doesn’t do this one justice…….

  • Rainer Spott

    “Berrgeist” got one r to much and one g to little: it is Berggeist, German for mountain ghost. Nice info, though.

    • The Deuce

      You are correct. Good catch.

  • Nathaniel A.

    Just another cool reason to love LOTR!

  • Frodo28

    Except Gandalf is a demi-god and santa claus loves cookies.

    • Hadeskabir

      You think Santa isn’t a demi-god as well? He is immortal, super fast, all knowing, he certainly is godlike.

  • Spartacross

    Santa, however, let go of himself.
    Soon, there will be not enough red velvet in the word…

    • Andy West

      ‘Santa, however, let go of himself’. Took a shit load of others with him as well.

  • Spartacross

    And on the informative side.:Santa Claus is based on an actual Christian Saint, St. Basil(ios) of Caesaria.
    And it is quite an interesting story.

    Sometime in the 3rd century AD, the the eastern Byzantine Empire got invaded again by some hordes or other and they led siege to the city of Caesaria. St. Basil, being the bishop and responsible for his flock, asked the people for money, jewelry and precious metal objects to offer to the invaders in order to go away without attacking the city.
    The people responded and a huge amount of gold coins and jewelry got amassed. However, the invading army dispersed (either the Byzantine army managed to reach the city in time of because of an infectious disease). This was very fortunate for the citizens of Caesaria; however, it left St. Basil with a logistics problem: how to return everything back to their owners.

    His solution was to ask for a great number of pies to be backed, one for every family in the city. And in every pie he placed a golden coin or a piece of jewelry. So every family that New Years Day got a surprise gift.

    In his memory we still bake pies in Greece on New Years Day and we place a golden coin for a member of the family to find.
    (Well, it used to be golden at least. Now it a stupid Euro!)

  • The Ou7law

    Fu** you Gandalf

  • inconspicuous detective

    santa and odin? no thanks. old german guy? yes.

  • Here’s a tribute to Gandalf and Santa Claus: