Yule was one of the most important festivals in the old heathen calendar. As the days drew short and the nights grew long, there were celebrations as well as a tinge fear in the cold, crisp air. The Yule festival featured evergreens being brought inside as sympathetic magic on 12 holy nights of yule. This was the night when ancestors visited from the Otherworld, and gods and spirits upon phantom horses rode through the night sky, led by All-father Odin upon his eight legged steed Sleipnir, leading the legendary Wild Hunt! No one wanted to be caught out alone on the road on this night as the ghostly hunting party ripped through the night sky, carrying the souls of the dead to the Otherworld.
When the day was done it was time to take refuge from the dark, and from dangerous spirits from the other realm, as families gathered together around the hearth, the heart of the kin.
They brought evergreens inside such as mistletoe, holly and ivy, as evergreens were the only plant to live through the harsh winter the people believed that these hardy shrubs could ward off evil spirits. They also made wreaths for the doors and windows to keep the darkness at bay and even brought down full trees to bring inside in hopes of its magical protection as they warmed themselves by the fire of the yule log.
The children were said to leave hay in their boots during Yuletide for Odin's eight-legged steed to feed from while Odin stopped to bring treats to children by entering through the fire hole.
Here we can see the true origin of the Heathen Yuletide becoming Christmas, and All-father Odin disguised as Father Christmas. As Christianity infringed itself upon the North and the folk were no longer allowed to worship their gods then names were changed to keep their worship secret and new traditions were born with the foundation of the old religion still strong beneath them.
From his long white beard to the more kind side of Odin, the god of wisdom, magic and death, we can see how over many generations he became the jolly old elf most of us would recognize as Father Christmas / Santa Claus. His eight reindeer harken back to the eight legs of his steed Sleipnir, cookies with milk for Santa remind us of offerings left out to placate the household spirits (a tradition still continued in Sweden where milk and porridge are left out for the household tomte) and boots filled with hay are reminiscent of stockings hung up by children to receive gifts.