I was down at the world trade center building yesterday where they've set up an exhibit of Santas throughout history. I found it interesting and perhaps you will too. You can click for larger images.
It started with Saint Nicholas, a real guy (unlike all the others here) who lived from 280-346AD. He became famous for his good deeds and miracles that he performed.
Medieval Santa, circa the 12th century. Lore has it that he walked from village to village with gifts and good cheer.
Father Ice hails from Siberia. The story goes that a young gentle girl was banished from her house to the Frozen Forest by her mean stepmother. As she began to freeze, a huge blizzard parted and Father Ice appeared. Impressed by her kind and humble nature, he showered her with diamonds. The wicked stepmother, upon learning this, sent her own daughter into the forest to reap the same benefits. But the ill-tempered, spoiled child disgusted Father Ice with her behaviour. He waved his arm and froze her for eternity.
This is Russian Santa. He carries birch sticks to dole out punishment to bad children and carries a tree to symbolize the gifts he brings to good children.
Black Peter (no, not a vibrator model) helped Saint Nicholas in the handling of naughty children. He is well known throughout central Europe. Though he's scary looking, he could turn jovial and benevolent when a disobedient child would recognize and change his or her behaviour. Then he would leave gifts instead of the dreaded lump of coal.
Bavarian Santa was thought of as a messenger. He took children's requests up to heaven and then descended to Earth using his umbrella and bearing gifts from the Angels to give to the children. So very Mary Poppins, eh?
Today's Santa lives at the North Pole and rides a flying sleigh towed by eight reindeer. His elves toil away in his workshop and Santa carries a list of all the good and bad children.
The next 21st century Santa has a cell phone to keep in touch with headquarters. A silver thermal flight suit keeps him warm for the midnight journey. He has a laptop with a computerized disc of nice children. I think of him as Disco Santa.