Santa Claus, sometimes referred to as Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Santa's Little helper, or just Santa, is a legendary figure originating from Western European Christian tradition who is believed to bring gifts for the homes of good-behaved kids on Christmas morning or during Christmas day itself. He is a long-reigning figure whose image is recognized by millions of people throughout the world and who serves as the basis for numerous festive traditions. He has been described as the patron saint of children, and his reputation is reflected in various popular Santa-themed toys and decorations. From the time that he first appeared on the scene, people have been fascinated by the idea of having a personal Santa in their homes. As the story of his legend grows in popularity, it has become much easier for retailers to create holiday toys based on Saint Nick's legend and attributes.
Historically, Santa Claus is believed to have first appeared on the scene when Saint Nicholas, the famous Bishop of Myra, received three little boys each bearing a star on their chests as he traveled around Europe on Christmas morning. The children, of course, were naughty because they didn't wish to be left out of the festivities that would follow, but the Bishop was so impressed with their behavior that he asked them to accompany him to the home of King Cnut in Denmark on Christmas eve in order to give him a letter of thanks for having granted King Christian's request to visit his home at the request of the King.
When King Cnut returned to his home on Christmas eve, he received a letter from St. Nick informing him of King Christian's decision to grant him permission to visit his home. The King immediately asked his servant to tell the King about the boy's arrival at the King's request, and on the way back home, St. Nick presented the King with a set of twelve golden coins in a chest that the King had purchased for his son. St. Nick's son then promised to return with more presents for the King to give to King Christian, but upon reaching King Christian, the boy refused to leave the home without one of the coins in the chest and the incident became known as "The Night of the Twelve Stars". Since then, many people in the North Europe region have associated the twelve stars on St. Nick's chest with the 12 nights before Christmas that following Christmas Eve.
Throughout the years, as the legend of Saint Nick grew in popularity among the North Europeans, other stories were added to his legend which made the legend even more legendary. For instance, stories about how he saved Christmas from the evil witch Grigore, and how he got Santa to deliver the presents of good wishes to those who needed them were added to the legend of Santa. Other stories include how Santa Claus helped Saint Nicolas, who was also an ally of St. Nick, to win back the throne of Portugal from the Moorish rule of Alberic the Moor's son in A.D. 650, and how the evil Queen of Spain, the Queen of Burgundy, fell in love with Saint Nick's son, Nelly when Nelly tricked her into thinking that she was the bride of a certain Moorish King.
Other legends tell of the birth of the Christmas tree, and of how Saint Nicholas used his magic powers to bring back to life his dying mother when she refused to give up her son the gift of Christianity during the Last Supper on Christmas eve. Many of these stories are based on historical facts, however the most popular accounts of Santa's childhood, including the ones based on the legends of his childhood, are not quite as well documented as other stories. Santa is believed to have come from Norway and Sweden, and to have become a Christian at a very young age, but there is no evidence that he became a fully-fledged member of the Catholic Church until after World War II. There is some debate as to whether Santa is of Scandinavian descent or German in origin, but he does look quite similar to both of these races.
The most famous legend that are associated with Saint Nick, and is the most popular with many North European children, is that of Saint Nicks' rescue of his father, the Prince of Denmark, in the story entitled "The Night of the Twelve Reindeer". However, it is also believed that Santa Claus saved the King of Sweden's daughter from a bear on Christmas eve, and that he also saved the king's brother from the wolf on Christmas day in order to bring him to his father.