ASanta Claus As Christmas evolved in the United States, new customs were adopted and many old ones were reworked. The legend of Santa Claus, for example, had origins in Europe and was brought by Dutch settlers to New York in the early 18th century. Traditionally, Santa Clausfrom the Dutch Sinterklaaswas depicted as a tall, dignified, religious figure riding a white horse through the air. Known as Saint Nicholas in Germany, he was usually accompanied by Black Peter, an elf who punished disobedient children. In North America he eventually developed into a fat, jolly old gentleman who had neither the religious attributes of Saint Nicholas nor the strict disciplinarian character of Black Peter. Santas transformation began in 1823, when a New York newspaper published the poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas, which Clement Clark Moore had written to amuse his daughter. The poem introduced many Americans to the story of a kindly saint who flew over housetops in a reindeerdrawn sleigh. Portraits and drawings of Santa Claus by American illustrator Thomas Nast further strengthened the legend during the second half of the 19th century. Living at the North Pole and assisted by elves, the modern Santa produced and delivered toys to all good children. By the late 19th century he had become such a prominent figure of American folklore that in 1897, when Virginia OHanlon wrote to the New York Sun newspaper asking if Santa were real, she received a direct answer: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.