Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas/Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle or simply "Santa", is a legendary figure who, in many Western cultures, brings gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24 or on his Feast Day, December 6 (Saint Nicholas Day). The legend may have part of its basis in hagiographical tales concerning the historical figure of gift giver Saint Nicholas. A nearly identical story is attributed by Greek and Byzantine folklore to Basil of Caesarea. Basil's feast day on January 1 is considered the time of exchanging gifts in Greece.
While Saint Nicholas was originally portrayed wearing bishop's robes, today Santa Claus is generally depicted as a plump, jolly, white-bearded man wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots. This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast. This image has been maintained and reinforced through song, radio, television, and films. In the United Kingdom and Europe, he is often depicted in a manner identical to the American Santa Claus, but he is commonly called Father Christmas.
One legend[which?] associated with Santa Claus says that he lives in the far north, in a land of perpetual snow. The American version of Santa Claus says that he lives at his house on the North Pole, while Father Christmas is often said[by whom?] to reside in the mountains of Korvatunturi in Lapland Province, Finland. Santa Claus lives with his wife Mrs. Claus, a countless number of magical elves, and eight or nine flying reindeer. Another legend[which?] of Santa Claus says that he makes a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior ("naughty" or "nice") and that he delivers presents, including toys, candy, and other gifts to all of the good boys and girls in the world, and sometimes coal to the naughty children, on the single night of Christmas Eve. He accomplishes this feat with the aid of the elves who make the toys in the workshop and the reindeer who pull his sleigh.
A medieval fresco depicting St Nicholas from the Boyana Church, near Sofia, Bulgaria
Excerpt from Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.
Folk tale depiction of Father Christmas riding on a goat (1840)
1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, with Clement Clarke Moore, helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus
An 1886 depiction of the indigenous Norse God Odin by Georg von Rosen
Sinterklaas in 2007