What do Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, and the Norse God Odin have in common? More than you might think.
and a passage from wikipedia about Norse God Odin:
In 1917 George Harley McKnight claimed that Santa Claus was largely based on Odin, merged with the Christian legend of Saint Nicholas of Myra. Most Christmas traditions in Germanic countries derive from celebrations of the pagan winter solstice holiday Yule as a result of the gradual merging of the two holidays.
Odin was recorded as leading a great Yule hunting party through the sky. Two books from Iceland, the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, describe Odin as riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir that could leap great distances, giving rise to comparisons to Santa Claus’s reindeer. Further, Odin was referred to by many names in Skaldic poetry, some of which describe his appearance or functions; these include Síðgrani, Síðskeggr, Langbarðr, (all meaning “long beard”) and Jólnir (“Yule figure”).
According to Phyllis Siefker, children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar, near the chimney for Odin’s flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir’s food with gifts or candy. This practice, she claims, survived in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands after the adoption of Christianity and became associated with Saint Nicholas as a result of the process of Christianization and can be still seen in the modern practice of the hanging of stockings at the chimney in some homes.
More history about the practice of hanging stockings by the fire comes from folklore & stories about Nicholas:
In his (Nicholas’) most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the poor man’s plight, Nicholas decided to help him, but being too modest to help the man in public (or to save the man the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to his house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man’s house.
One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throw the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man’s plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.
source: wikipedia on Saint Nicholas