Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and simply “Santa”, is a figure with legendary, mythical, historical and folkloric origins who, in many western cultures, is said to bring gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24. During the Christianization of Germanic Europe, this figure may have absorbed elements of the god Odin, who was associated with the pre-Christian midwinter event of Yule and led the Wild Hunt, a ghostly procession through the sky. The modern figure of Santa Claus was derived from the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas, which, in turn, was part of its basis in hagiographical tales concerning the historical figure of Christian bishop and gift giver Saint Nicholas.
Santa Claus is generally depicted as a portly, joyous, white-bearded man—sometimes with spectacles—wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots (images of him rarely have a beard with no moustache). This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast. This image has been maintained and reinforced through song, radio, television, children’s books and films.
According to a tradition which can be traced to the 1820s, Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, with a large number of magical elves, and nine (originally eight) flying reindeer. Since the 20th century, in an idea popularized by the 1934 song “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”, Santa Claus has been believed to make a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior (“naughty” or “nice”) and to deliver presents, including toys, and candy to all of the well-behaved children 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.