• Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus' current look with an initial illustration in an 1863 issue of Harper's Weekly as pictured.Wikimedia Commons
  • Santa Claus portrayed by children's television producer Jonathan Meath.Wikimedia Commons

St Nicholas Day is an event marked across the globe celebrating the evolution of the Modern Day 'Santa Claus' -- the rosy-cheeked, jolly and gift-giving saint -- who has been the center of children's fantasies and folklore.

Living in the 4th century, 'Saint Nick' or Nicholas was a Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra, in modern-day Turkey in Lycia. The saint gained his reputation for his secret gift-giving quality, which made him a much loved personality among children. He is often said to put coins in the shoes of those who left them out in respect for him and he became the model for how the Modern Day Santa Claus is depicted.

Although the real St Nicholas was not the same fat, rosy-cheeked person we see in Santa, there are two stories cited to have occurred in the life of the saint that is said to have determined why the world, many centuries later, brought forth a fat, bearded man in a red suit bearing gifts to young children.

According to Biography website, the first story the legend has is that he saved three impoverished daughters from a life of prostitution by giving away his wealth for their dowries. He is said to have tossed three bags of gold for the young women, who received the gold that landed into their socks that were left near the chimney to dry.

Secondly, legend also has it that Saint Nicholas once discovered through his supernatural senses, how a local inn keeper had robbed, murdered, and kept three young men in barrels in his basement to be eaten as 'pickle'. The saint reportedly prayed so sincerely that the sheer power of this prayer resurrected their bodies.

And it was Dutch settlers in America who first brought the legend of the St Nicholas – known to them as 'Sinter Klaas' -- towards the end of the 18th Century. The story of the saint tended to merge with the British personality of Father Christmas, who dates back to the 17th century. The name of Sinter Klaas was eventually Americanised to what is today known as 'Santa Claus.'

Also important to note is how the fantasy and rituals surrounding Santa Claus became fixed in the collective memory of the modern Christian society after Clement Moore wrote a famous poem called 'A Visit from St. Nicholas' also known as 'The Night Before Christmas'. The poem vividly described the physical appearance of Santa as plump and jolly and his mode of transportation as a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer and the way he delivered gifts by putting it down the chimney.