Traditionally, Santa Claus is portrayed as a kindly, round-bellied, merry, bespectacled man in a red suit trimmed with white fur, with a long white beard. On Christmas eve, he rides in his flying sleigh, pulled by reindeer from house to house to give presents to children. During the rest of the year he lives at the North Pole, in Finnish Lapland, or Dalecarlia in Sweden together with his wife, Mrs. Claus. The names of his reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Rudolph, 'the red-nosed reindeer', has featured in many modern aspects of the Santa Claus myth.Origins
The modern Santa Claus is a composite character made up from the merging of two quite separate figures. The first of these is Saint Nicholas of Myra, a bishop of Byzantine Anatolia, now in modern day Turkey famous for his generous gifts to the poor. The second character is Father Christmas, which remains the British name for Santa Claus. Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Britain, and pictures of him survive from that era, portraying him as a well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe.The Evolution
When the Dutch still owned the land that later became New York, they brought the Saint Nicholas' eve legend as Sinterklaas with them to the Americas, but without the red mantle and other symbols. Sinterklaas was Americanized to "Santa Claus" but lost his bishop's apparel and was at first pictured as a thick bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat.
Santa Claus appeared in various colored costumes as he gradually became amalgamated with the figure of Father Christmas, but red soon became popular after he appeared wearing such on an 1885 Christmas card. His horse was converted to reindeers and a sleigh, the black peters were converted to elves, and, in an attempt to move the origin of the festivities away from their pagan background to a more Christian one, the date was moved forward a few weeks to the celebrated day of the birth of Jesus: Christmas.Modern Santa Clause
Many postal services allow children to send letters to Santa Claus pleading their good behaviour and requesting gifts; these letters may be answered by postal workers or other volunteers. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has been immortalized in a song which is frequently played at Christmas. Unlike the Santa in the United States and the United Kingdom, the Japanese Santa Claus does not carry any religious connotations. Christmas is mainly a time for lovers to exchange gifts. New Year's Day is a more important holiday in Japan.