Last year, I researched the origins of Christmas and Christmas trees. I had heard claims about the pre-Christian origins of Christmas so much that I expected to have no trouble finding actual evidence for them. In fact, the claims were rumors that began centuries after the traditions had become established in Christianity. There was no evidence of pre-Christian origins for Christmas or Christmas trees.
However, pre-Christian festivals did become associated with Christmas later. One of those was Yule. According to Heimskringla, a collection of sagas about the early kings of Norway, when Haakon the Good became king of Norway in 934, he decided to practice Christianity in secret. Rather than refusing to observe Yule, which began on January 12 and continued for three nights, Haakon made a law that Yule would begin on December 25 and continue “as long as the ale lasted.” He disguised his observance of Christmas as observance of Yule until he felt strong enough to impose Christianity openly. Since then, Yule has been synonymous with Christmas.
Certainly, our Santa Claus, presiding over Christmas from the North Pole, has more in common with divine Odin, pre-Christian Norway’s Lord of Yule, than with mortal Saint Nicholas, a bishop of Myra in Turkey. (This doesn’t mean that Santa Claus is Odin. I just find it interesting.)