Josiah King, The Tryal and Examination of Father Christmas, 1636

The British figure of Father Christmas dates from the 15th century, as a personification of good cheer at Christmas time.  He was not necessarily associated with children or gift-giving, but somewhere between the 18th- and 19th-centuries, his legend began to merge with the generous figure of St. Nicholas, into the Santa Claus that we now associate with Christmas.  In the multicultural, Protestant context of America, the Catholic icon St. Nicholas became a secular symbol of gift-giving that  combined a number of European traditions and characters.