Santa Claus has a far lengthier history than we realize. Saint Nicholas was Nicholas of Patara, a Bishop of Myra, during the Fourth Century. His Feast Day is celebrated on Dec 6, the day of his death. This Saint Nicholas appears in paintings from the 1400s on.
Another strand in the creation of the modern Santa, which explains how he became the patron saint of children, rests on a story about an innkeeper who murdered three boys, dismembered them, and put them in a vat to pickle. Saint Nicholas found them, reunited the pieces and restored them to life.
A pagan Father Christmas was a folk figure in Europe, but a much less sweet and ‘jolly old elf’ than the Santa we know.
Dutch settlers brought our Santa Claus to New York in the seventeenth century. By then, many of the familiar parts of the legend had already been established. Good children received gifts, bad children did not and he was already in red robes and white beard.
No discussion of Santa Claus would be complete with mentions of Clement C. Moore, the author of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and Thomas Nast. Until the nineteenth century, St. Nick had traveled by horse, donkey, or in a chariot pulled by horses that flew through the sky. The reindeer were certainly an American invention but by whom no one is sure. Moore’s St. Nick was an elfish figure. Nast, a political cartoonist, began a series of Christmas cartoons in which the appearance of St. Nick became the Santa we know today.