The mythology surrounding Santa Claus dates back to A.D. 300 and centers on Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra in Lycia, who under cover of night took gifts to the needy. Nicholas' fame spread after his death, and many European countries began to celebrate December 6 - his feast day - with joyful revelry, the exchange of gifts and sumptuous repasts. Dutch settlers brought the custom to the New World during the 17th century. St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as Dutch children called him, was originally pictured as a tall, slender man of stately demeanor. But in America his appearance, and his name, changed. Sinterklass became Santa Claus, and the saint evolved into a round, jolly elf with rosy cheeks, a white mane of flowing hair and a long beard.