The current Santa figure is actually an amalgamation of many mythological or mythologized characters.
Odin was sometimes recorded, at the native Germanic holiday of Yule, as leading a great hunting party through the sky. Odin is described as riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir that could leap great distances, giving rise to comparisons to Santa Claus's reindeer. According to some traditions, children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar, near the chimney for Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir's food with gifts or candy. This practice still survives in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands and became associated with Saint Nicholas since Christianization. In other countries it has been replaced by the hanging of stockings at the chimney in homes.
Over time as Christianity took hold people still kept their old traditions but adapted them to fit the new paradigm. St. Nikolas was a bishop believed to be known for his charity and gift giving to children. For some Catholics he became the new figure bestowing gifts this time of year but not for all. Some Catholic countries adopted the idea of the Christkind angel instead that brings gifts in the 24th.
Since then in many places Santa has evolved to the figure that lives at the North Pole with elves and is independent of any particular religion or mythology system.
There are more cultural influences in the development of the figure but it would be too lengthy to list them all.
Commented By: Kahn
Dutch tradition of Sinta Klaas !
Commented By: Peter
The original Santa Claus was a Christian monk whose Dutch name was Sinter Klaas. He would go around on Christmas Eve dropping bags of money down people's chimneys.
Although he died, a legend grew up around the guy. Why the legend took on the look of a jolly fat guy is beyond me...this guy was scrawny from his vow of poverty
Commented By: George
A kind-hearted guy named Nikolas used to give gifts to orphans and needy people.
A religion decided to call him a "saint" . . .
Saint Nikolas .. over time .. began to sound more like "Santa Claus" just by usage.
In about the 1930's or 40's American marketing people decided to give him Coca-Cola colours (red & white) because of the marketing success of the drink. True!