1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, with Clement Clarke Moore, helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.
"Pre-modern representations of the gift-giver from church history and folklore merged with the British character Father Christmas to create the character known to Britons and Americans as Santa Claus. Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Britain, and pictures of him survive from that era, portraying him as a well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe. He typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, and was reflected in the "Ghost of Christmas Present" in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol."
Image courtesy of James Barker / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
"In the 1840s however, an elf in Nordic folklore called "Tomte" or "Nisse" started to deliver the Christmas presents in Denmark. The Tomte was portrayed as a short, bearded man dressed in gray clothes and a red hat. This new version of the age-old folkloric creature was obviously inspired by the Santa Claus traditions that were now spreading to Scandinavia. By the end of the 19th century this tradition had also spread to Norway and Sweden, replacing the Yule Goat. The same thing happened in Finland, but there the more human figure retained the Yule Goat name. But even though the tradition of the Yule Goat as a bringer of presents is now all but extinct, a straw goat is still a common Christmas decoration in all of Scandinavia. "