Didn't know about Nast's version. It looks similar to Coca-Cola one too. So basically Santa Claus is mixture of some Nordic demon, Odin, false legend of St. Nicholas and corporate design. :spit:----------
Sinterklaas (where the name Santa Claus stems from, and which itself stems from Sint-Nicolaas) already had a red and white outfit; don't know if it was the inspiration for Thomas Nast, but sounds reasonable. Giving gifts to children was already a thing with Sinterklaas. Apparently Dutch kids filled their klompen with hay, carrots and sugar, for Sinterklaas' horse. He then in exchange filled the shoes with gifts.
Wonder if that Zwarte Piet figure is still going on strong in this day and age? Seems controversial. Any Dutch people wanna chime in...?
St. Nicholas, children and giftgiving:
As for the Nordic precursor, it's a paganistic tradition, the character looked like a goat (guys dressed in a fur and wearing a goat mask; they were more scary, going from house to house drinking people's liquor etc., but also brought some presents to good kids and dry twigs to bad ones. Similar to Krampus in Central European tradition and folklore.
Sinterklaas looks awful really, like some alternate Pope, with his African servants. Is this Finnish language on Nordic demon illustration?