Santa's origin can be traced back to ancient Germanic folklore and the Norse god Odin. The modern character of Santa was embraced by America with the 1823 publication of Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas"--better known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast created the first Santa images based on Clement's fifty-six line poem.
|Haddon Sundblom at work.|
The Coca-Cola Santa story: http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/coke-lore-santa-claus/