The modern Santa Claus is a combination of a number of stories from a variety of countries.
Santa Claus... a typical American thing, isn't it ? Santa - that's how the name Sint Nikolaas spoken by the Dutch sounded to Americans. The Dutch brag that their Sinterklaas is the original (a-hem, cough, cough, cough!) one, and that the Santa Claus celebrated in the western world is just an invention of North Americans, vaguely based on their belief on Sinterklaas. The image of a Santa Claus we see today was indeed invented by Coca-Cola company. From 1931 to 1964 Coca-Cola advertised him delivering toys and/or enjoying a Coke with children who stayed up to greet him.
Santa Claus is basically a summing up of all different legends that used to run around in the Christian Medieval world vaguely based on actual events and a person called Nicholas as viewed by the Dutch - with some touches of paganism too (Northern god Odin has some parallels to Saint Nicholas as well). Whole story in details here.
No... The Dutch Sinterklaas THE ORIGINAL ONE ? No way ! The Dutch Sinterklaas is a basically a Dutch invention, based on the life of a bishop from Myrna, in Anatolia (central part of Turkey) called Nicholas. He was a benevolent man especially for kids. It is said he fred an Ethiopian slave in a market, who in return started to follow the bishop. End of the story.
It should be the end. But then the Dutch added to it that Sinter comes every year around the end of November (why so early???) from Madrid (?) in Spain (wasn't him Turkish???) in a steam boat (Are there canals in Spain???) with lots (it was ONE slave in the legend, right ???) of helpers called "the black Peters" (racist???) and that Sint also has a white horse (albino???) called "Amerigo" (amigo spelled wrong???). Argh ! There was a moment that I despised this whole odd story, lying to kids and all the comsummerism behind it. Now I decided to relax and let the kids believe in what they want to believe collectively. Conclusion: the Dutch celebrate the ORIGINAL (their word) Sinterklaas on the 5th of December and then they have a dinner on the 25th (why not the night of 24th ?) of December WITHOUT PRESENTS - just because the rest of the Christian world is celebrating it too. Pffff !
S is for Sint.
Sint and Piet... not to be taken seriously.