The fictional Santa Claus as he is conceived of today is fairly uncomplicated: a jolly, fat man in a red suit who brings toys to children all over the world from his home at the North Pole via a reindeer-driven sled. He's just a symbol of gift-giving, generosity, and plenty. RIGHT?
Well, partially right. A monk named St. Nicholas was born around A.D. 280 in what is now Turkey to a wealthy family. St. Nicholas was renowned for his generosity, with legends saying that he gave away all of his inheritance and traveled far and wide helping people. He died on December 6, and that day became his feast day after he was canonized. In Holland, St. Nicholas Day is still celebrated, with children putting out their shoes to receive cookies and candy from "St. Nick."
The Dutch nickname for St. Nick was Sinter Klaas, and as Dutch settlers brought their traditions to the New World, "Sinter Klaas" became "Santa Claus." Novelist Washington Irving further popularized Santa Claus in his book "The History Of New York", in which he deemed St. Nicholas "the patron saint of New York." By the mid-19th century, newly created department stores began to advertise Christmas shopping, often using images of St.Nick/Santa Claus. In 1841, a store owner in Philadelphia hired a man dressed as Santa Claus to climb his store's chimney. It was only a matter of time before stores began to attract children, and their parents, with the lure of a peek at a "live" Santa Claus. In 1822, a New York professor, Clement Clarke Moore, wrote a poem for his daughters entitled "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas," detailing a Santa Claus with a portly figure and magical abilities. In 1881, a political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore's poem to create a Harper's Weekly cartoon of Santa as a round, happy, bearded man wearing a bright red fur-trimmed suit and holding a toy-stuffed sack.
And the rest my friends is History!
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc'd in their heads,
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap —