Over the centuries, Christianity incorporated pagan aspects which made the myth more colourful. A source of inspiration and appearance change was likely the Germanic God of Odin.
The Dutch pronounce his name as Sinterklaas from which Santa was derived. They’ve celebrated him since the Middle Ages. Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) is held in several European countries on December 6. There he is normally depicted riding a white horse. Instead of elves, he is helped by Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters). I’ll skip the arguments for whether that is compliment or racism.
Santa’s character was further developed in the book ‘Saint Nicholas and his helper’ (written in 1850 by the teacher Jan Schenkman). L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz, further popularised Santa with his 1902 children’s book, ‘The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus’. Clement Clarke Moore’s 1923 poem, ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ which is also known as ‘The Night Before Christmas’, introduced the concepts of the sleigh on the roof and entering through the chimney (it should be noted that Odin got in the same way).
In the 1930’s, Coco Cola entrenched Santa’s image when they used him in their advertising.
Throw in World War II where people, especially children, needed something to believe in, and, along with everything else, you get a lot closer to the ‘Christian’ Santa we have today.
Whether it’s ok to lie to children is a debate. I’d rather parents take the credit and deepen their bond with children. On the other hand, i love fantasy and we live in a world of Harry Potter. I definitely do not like the commercialisation of all things Christmas.
Living in South Africa, i also find Santa without snow very strange 🙂