Origin of Santa Claus
The history of the Santa Claus figure goes back to St. Nicholas, a bishop who lived in the area we now recognize as Turkey around 300 AD. St. Nicholas was from a wealthy family and was noted for his generosity. It is said that he gave away bags full of gold to the poor, especially to children, and that he often delivered these by dropping them down chimneys. St. Nicholas is portrayed in red and white bishop's robes with a long white beard, and he became associated with Christmas time in the Catholic church.
The tradition of St. Nick survived the Protestant reformation and Communism in Russia by the creation of new gift-giving personas - Father Christmas in England, Pere Noel in France, SinterKlaas in the Netherlands and Grandfather Frost in Russia. He was alwaysl portrayed as a white-bearded man, but his robes took on a variety of colors - red, black, and even blue (typical of Grandfather Frost).
The image of Santa Claus that we know today was first portrayed by illustrator and cartoonist Thomas Nast during the American civil war era. His illustrations, of a round, pipe-smoking, bearded Santa in a red suit appeared annually on the cover of the Christmas issue of Harper's weekly.
This image was further refined by illustrator Haddon Sundblom in Coca Cola ads in the early 20th century. Sundbloom added white fur trim to Santa's red suit and gave him the black boots, black belt and sack of toys that we see in modern portrayals of Santa Claus.