A familiar symbol of Christmas in Europe and North America, Santa Claus is usually pictured as a jolly old man in a red suit who brings gifts to good children. The tradition of Santa Claus is based on a historical figure named St. Nicholas. Nicholas of Bari, the bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) in the a.d. 300s, was known for his kindness and generosity. Tales of miracles he performed for the poor and unfortunate grew up around his name. In one story, he provided dowries for poor girls who otherwise would not have married.
dowry money, goods, or property that a woman brings to her husband at marriage
patron special guardian, protector, or supporter
St. Nicholas became very popular in Europe during the Middle Ages and was adopted as the patron saint of Russia. Dutch settlers in America brought his legend with them, and his Dutch name, Sinte Klaas, changed into Santa Claus. His story was combined with northern European tales of a magician who rewarded good children and punished wicked ones. The appearance of Santa Claus was first described in Clement Moore's 1822 poem "The Night Before Christmas," and his image has remained the same to this day.
See also Nicholas, St.