Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

“How old is Santa?”

A relatively trim Santa skips the cookies in favor of petting the cat, or The Five-Year-Old’s most compelling argument for why we should just go ahead and adopt a cat now. (Image: Public Domain.)

Revision notes, October 2019 — The thing about writing a blog for eight years is that your standards change over time. While reworking another eight-year-old Santa post to meet the newer edition of my Caterpickles standards this week, I realized that this post wasn’t quite up to snuff either. So I reworked it a bit to add in some more photos, headers, and the section on Kris Kringle.

How old is Santa?

Before you can figure out how old Santa is, you have to figure out who you think Santa Claus is. Let’s examine the leading contenders, shall we?

The Greek Saint Nicholas

Also known as Nikolaos the Wonder-worker, Saint Nicholas was the 4th Century Greek Bishop of Myra who had a penchant for dropping coins in the clogs of the poor and who came to be known to the Dutch as Sinterklaas. St. Nick was born in 270 A.D., which would make Santa Claus 1741 years old.

My daughter, who was helping me with these updates: “Mommyo, Santa’s a lot older now.”

Mommyo: “Right.”

If you think Saint Nicholas is Santa, and Saint Nicholas was 1741 years old in 2011, then Santa Claus would be 1749 in 2019, when this post was updated.

My daughter: “You’d better fix the rest of the ages too.”

The British Father Christmas

Next up in our pageant is Father Christmas, whose preferred means of travel appears to have been by goat, not reindeer-pulled sleigh. Father Christmas was first mentioned in 15th C British Christmas carols, which would make him roughly 600 years old.

My daughter, helpfully: “609, Mommyo.”

The American Santa Claus

This black and white drawing shows a rotund gentleman with a long stemmed pipe and an armful of toys.
Thomas Nast’s 1881 drawing of “Merry Old Santa Claus”. (First published in the January 1, 1881 Harper’s Weekly, now more readily available via Wikipedia)

As Americans are prone to do, when the British and Dutch Sinterklaas came to the United States, we couldn’t quite get the pronunciation of his name right, so changed it to something a bit easier, like Santa Claus. The name Santa Claus was first used in the American press in 1773, making him a relatively spry 246 in 2019.

The wild-haired scientist Albert Einstein

As Gaute Einevoll points out, Albert Einstein bears a striking resemblance to the man in red. More importantly, Einstein has the in-depth knowledge of moving matter required to deliver all those presents on time. Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, so if you subscribe to Einevoll’s “Quanta Claus” theory, then Santa Claus would have turned 140 in 2019.

The Norse god Odin

This black and white image of the Norse god Odin shows a one-eyed white man with a long white beard wearing a floppy hat and holding a cane.
(Image: Odin the Wanderer by Georg von Rosen 1843-1923.)

Every winter, Odin would lead a great Yule hunting party through the sky on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. Children would set boots filled with carrots, straw, or sugar by their chimneys as snacks for Odin’s horse. Odin would reward the children for their kindness by filling the boots with candy and gifts. If Odin is the original Santa Claus, that would make Santa very old indeed. Too old for us to count, I’m afraid.

My daughter: “What about Kris Kringle?”

Mommyo: “Yes, what is the story on Kris Kringle?”

My daughter: “You should ask Caterpickles!”

The Story on Kris Kringle

Thanks in large part to movies like 1934’s Miracle on 34th Street, we in the United States often consider Kris Kringle to be just another name for Santa Claus, but traditionally the two figure are completely separate. The name “Kris Kringle” is another example of the traditional name being Americanized when it crossed our borders (and as it turns out, the original story being completely lost).

The Christkindl, i.e. Not Santa. (Photo: Square87 via Wikipedia)
The Christkindl. Not Santa. (Photo: Square87 via Wikipedia)

Ironically, Martin Luther invented the original gift-giver, the “Christkindl” (also known as the “Christkindchen” or “Christkind”) during the 16th and 17th Century Protestant Reformation specifically to counter the growing popularity of St. Nicholas.

The Christkindl became the traditional gift-giver across Europe, parts of Hispanic America, and the Acadiana region of Louisiana. Although Luther intended the Christkindl to be a reference to the baby Jesus, over time the Christkindl sprouted angel’s wings and blond hair, becoming much more like a generous little 400-500 year-old cherub than an infant born in Bethlehem.

So how old is Santa?

Although the Miracle on 34th Street makes a compelling case for Kris Kringle being Santa Claus, we are going to side with Martin Luther and declare that the Christkindl cannot be Santa.

Which leaves us with St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Einstein, and Odin as the most likely Santa contenders. Depending on which theory you subscribe to, the perennially 70ish in appearance Santa Claus could be anywhere from 140 to Too-Old-For-Us-To-Count.

My daughter: “Mommyo, how old do you think Santa is?”

Mommyo: “At least 140. I think there’s really no way to know.”

My daughter: “I’ll ask Santa. And then I’ll ask him if he reads Caterpickles.”

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