The British "Father Christmas" figure is buried deep in the mists of time, but the American "Santa Claus" owes his existence to the Dutch settlers who brought their veneration of Sinter Klass (St. Nicholas) with them to the New World. A number of engravings from the 18th century show the saint in a hat and robes, while stockings full of gifts and fruit hung at the fireside. The original St. Nicholas may have been Nicholas of Myra, an ancient bishop honored for his holiness.
If Santa did have a birthday, it would be December 23, 1822, the night that the American Episcopalian minister and classical scholar Clement Clark Moore wrote his famous poem, “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”) to read to his three daughters. Moore’s image of a jolly old man with a long white beard and a sack full of gifts has merged with the Santa Claus and Father Christmas characters we recognize today.