Santa Claus is a semi-mythical figure, an originally American amalgam of Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, and certain pagan elements from the Germanic holiday of Yule. The name "Santa Claus" is a corruption of the Dutch pronunciation of "Saint Nicholas," ("Sinterklaas"). In addition, Santa is sometimes identified with Kris Kringle, although this is actually a German name for the Christ child (ie, Jesus.)

Santa is said to live at the North Pole, where he delivers Christmas presents to all good girls and boys worldwide. Bad children receive a lump of coal in their stocking. To distinguish between the "nice" and "naughty" children, Santa makes a list, and checks it twice. He is assisted by elves who manufacture toys.

When Santa is ready to deliver presents, he drives a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. As of 1823 (according to the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas), the reindeer's names are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. They were joined in 1939 by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the son of Donner, who assists them during foggy Christmas eves.

The fat, jolly Santa in the red suit first appeared in an 1863 editorial cartoon by Thomas Nast for Harper's Weekly. Before 1863, Santa was usually depicted as tall and thin.

When children are old enough, they learn that Santa is a myth. Some parents tell their children that while they believe in the idea of Santa (ie, the spirit of Christmas and of generosity), they do not believe in the idea of Santa as a man. Some Christians oppose Santa as a symbol of the commercialization and secularization of Christmas. Others focus their attention on Saint Nicholas, the Christian saint that the Santa myths were based on.

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