"Born, so they say, as a god and translated into bishop then patron saint, the jolly old elf we know as Santa Claus has survived multiple personalities in his long career as gift-giver emeritus. He has his own saint's day, December 6, which was derived from the feast sponsored in his honor by Greeks and Romans to whom he was embodied in the form of Poseidon, god of the sea. The Nicholas of St. Nick was transplanted from Asia Minor to Europe, and there he assumed a variety of guises, dispensing his gifts on his own day, on Christmas Eve, on New Year's , or, emulating the Wise Men, on Epiphany, January 6. To Americans during the colonial era, gift-giving was considered extravagant and a sin; there was no Santa back then. It was the famous poem written by Clement C. Moore--The Night Before Christmas--and cartoon by Thomas Nast that crystallized the image of Santa Claus we love today. His name, extrapolated from the Dutch Sinterklass, stuck to the chubby septuagenarian, and collections of Santas are based upon this benevolent bearded fellow bearing gifts."
(Taken from Country Living Country Christmas Copyright 1990 The Hearst Corporation Page 110)