Sir: Gretchen Mason (letter, 15 December) was closest to the truth in the debate about the origins of Santa Claus. He is, in fact, a mixture of the Dutch Saint Nicholas and the Scandinavian Jul Tomten (Christmas elf).
Saint Nicholas is a bishop from Madrid who has the jolly habit of distributing presents to all Dutch children on the eve of his own birthday on 6 December. The evening of 5 December finds him astride his white stallion (brought with him from Spain aboard his great white steamship) on the roofs of Holland, while his Moor helpers (all called "Black Pete") pop down the chimneys with the presents.
The holy man is hundreds of years old and thus has a long white beard. He is dressed as a bishop should, in long flowing robes, complete with staff and mitre. The predominant colour of his garb is red.
The Jul Tomten was a small elf, clad in grey, who on Christmas eve took care of the farm animals while everyone else was making merry (in short, too drunk to feed the animals themselves). In exchange for his labours, a dish of porridge was put on the steps outside for him.
These two were indeed "married" in the US, the Jul Tomten growing taller and distinctly fatter, and donning Saint Nicholas's colour of garment and long white beard. He also began distributing presents to children.
The reindeer and sled (although typically Scandinavian products) are an American invention and, sadly, the Black Petes have disappeared. Talk about layoffs....