In our time, particularly in America and Europe, and even more particular, around Christmas time, the iconic figure known only (to most) as Santa is a symbol of Christmas. His figure decorates our windows, our Christmas trees, our presents, our clothes, our candy... the list goes on. The question lies, how did it come to this? How did a concept of mythic proportions tangle itself so deeply in our lives? Well, over time - when the circumstances are right - fact can eventually become fable.
Although it is widely believed that there was a real "Santa", little is known about him. The real Santa, St. Nicholas, was in fact a Christian saint (of course, giving him the title St. Nicholas) and during his time was a highly respected member of the clergy. Born in Greece during the third century, Nicholas' father and other both died while he was still young, leading him to be raised by his uncle.
St. Nicholas earned his name, according to legend, by stealing into the night and leaving gifts in homes of children, or in children's rooms. Although this would be his most distinguishing factor of good works, he also was known for aiding the needy, sick, and others in suffering. His name served as an example of good and kindness; stories of him were passed along, and managed to survive all the way to our era.
St. Nicholas was such an influential and renowned individual of the church that hundreds of churches were built in his dedication, as well as countless mosaics and stain-glass windows created in his honor.
Tompert, Ann. Saint Nicholas. Boyd's Mills Press, 2001.
Martin Ebon. Saint Nicholas: Life and Legend. Harper & Row, 1975.