St. Nicholas, an Archbishop, lived in the fourth century. While he was north, he didn't live at The North Pole, but what is often referred to, today, as a part of the country of Turkey.
He was quite known for wearing red robes and having a very white beard and mustache. Most importantly, he was most known for his legendary generosity.
An old tale speaks of a time when he heard that there was a poor widower who was unable to provide dowries for his daughters. St. Nicholas is said to have secretly dropped bags of gold through the window of their house, near the chimney and fireplace, in the middle of the night.
Santa Claus is simply a modern version of what happened all those years before with St. Nicholas. In fact, December 6th is often celebrated throughout the Christian world as The Feast of St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas made Santa the mysterious celebrity that he is today. Aside from that infamous day that depicts his pure generosity when the gold arrived in the widower's home, it was in 1823 when "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" was published. (a.k.a. "A Visit From St. Nicholas.")
Slightly before this time, however, in 1804, John Pintard, tossed around the idea of making St. Nicholas the patron Saint of New York. (Note: Mr. Pintard was the founder of The New York Historical Society.)
After all, the Dutch had migrated to New York and there was a big surge to promote Dutch customs including traditional Sinterklaas festivities.
Sinterklaas festivities, even today in Holland, are festive (often raucous) street parties, house parties, and boat parties (in the many canals and waterways throughout Holland.) The Dutch still depict Sinterklaas in the red bishop attire and white beard.
In Holland it is still believed that Sinterklaas makes his arrival by boat in November into the Netherlands and in December rides a white horse across the sky at night. (this particular story and plot is one twisted over time from Germanic lore pertaining to God Odin.)
While Pintard's dream of making St. Nicholas the patron Saint of New York never emerged onto the scene like he had hoped, his cousin, Washington Irving, did play a bit of a role in making St. Nicholas a celebrity. (Note: Washington Irving was another founding member of the New York Historical Society.)
In his book, A Knickerbocker's History of New York, published in 1809, Irving was instrumental in delivering to America, a more secular, more modern St. Nicholas.
By first updating the "look" of St. Nicholas, he took away the red robes, and the austere bishop persona. Instead, he introduced us to that jolly'ol' "Dutch-sailor" with the noticeable belly, and twisty mustache, that wore a green coat and rode a horse-drawn wagon over the treetops.
This was the very beginning of what has become the celebrity image of what Santa Claus is to us today - 2020.
"'Twas The Night Before Christmas" (a.k.a. "A Visit From St. Nicholas") drew from Irving's modern version of St. Nick. It's a co-creative result of these works that established a number of different, long enduring traditions most closely tied to Santa Claus.
He is forever connected with the season of winter and The North Pole (a very wintry place.)
His sleigh is pulled forward by reindeer.
His arrival to deliver generous gifts to children changed from December 6 to Christmas Day.
Of course, Santa is still seen around the usual annual events in communities far and wide like: Visit Santa in the Park, Tree Lighting with Santa, Breakfast with Santa, Santa Pub Crawls, Night of 1000 Santas, and the ol' traditional - sitting on Santa's lap in the center of the mall.
Today, our jolly fellow continues to evolve with modern day events like . . .
Today, Santa has evolved into a crazy magical fusion of many legends dating back to the early 1800's. His lore is tied to Turkey, Holland, Spain, pagan mid-winter traditions, New York, German Gods and more.
Over time, Norman Rockwell, Coca Cola, M&Ms, Miracle on 34th Street (The Movie), The Saturday Evening Post and Harper's Weekly, to name a few, depicted Santa Claus that commercialized him, not only in the USA, but far beyond.
All of this is what catapulted his fame and made him the worldwide phenomenon that he is today.