For many years I've made fun of the stupidity of Santa Claus. It just seemed a bit silly to me that we'd deliberately lie to children with such an implausible lie. Flying Reindeer? A man who went round the whole world in one night when planes take 22 hours to get to London and satellites orbit every 90 minutes. When there's actually nothing at the North Pole (I knew of Amundsen's expedition at an early age).
Francis P. Church's editorial letter in the The Sun (New York) to Virginia O'Hanlon of 115 W95th St, is perhaps one of the most famous editiorials of all time. Church's father, Pharcellus, was a Baptist minister and journalist who founded The New York Chronicle, so perhaps his answer was not aimed necessarily at perpetuating a lie but saying something else to the rest of readers of The Sun.
First of all, what is Santa Claus actually for? The modern incarnation of the chap is roughly based on poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" ("The Night Before Christmas" - published 1823).
The other person who is responsible is the artist Haddon Sundblom who was commissioned by Coca-Cola in the 1930s. So popular were Sundblom's images of Claus (Sundblom's images are used by Coca-Cola to this day) that the urban legend soon arose that Sundblom had actually created the modern image of Santa Claus.
Sundblom also painted the iconic image of the scary Quaker Oats man in 1957; the image is still used in Quaker branding to this day AUGH!!.
The Christian Church is also responsible for its repeated hijacking of festivals. St Nicholas' day which is on Dec 6 is credited with presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes.
Despite Santa Claus's mixed Christian roots, he has become a secular representation of Christmas. As such, a number of Christian churches dislike the secular focus on Santa Claus and the materialist focus that present-receiving gives to the holiday.
Esentially Santa Claus is a marketing piece, albeit one who's as insidious as the Easter Bunny (the only thing I've seen come out of a real rabbit is something that you really do not wat to eat). In that respect he's a bit like Uncle Sam, John Bull or Captain Birdseye. I still think that lying to kiddies is a bit dumb though.
Edit at 1422: Australia need 168 off of 36 overs. England appear to be in trouble... NO!!