Thanks to Coca-Cola, a modern-day version of Santa Claus works almost all over the world. He’s a Saint with a gift sack, wears red and white clothes, he lives with Mrs Claus in the North Pole and on Christmas Eve he flies across the world in his sleigh with eight-reindeers leaving presents under the Christmas tree (once he’s been down the chimney of course).
But is Santa the only gift-giver around the world? In this blog, we are exploring the different Santa-figures that are known in countries around the world…
Italy – La Befana
In Italy there is a custom of bringing presents by a malevolent witch called La Befana. She looks scary, flies on a broom and children put stockings up by the fireplace for Befana to fill with presents. She brings good children presents & sweets, but if you were naughty, you’d receive coal on the night of January 5/6, Epiphany.
The Christkind is the traditional Christmas gift-bringer in parts of Germany. It is often portrayed as an angel-like girl, with blonde hair and wings. Children never see her in person, and are told that she will not come out if they look for her. Families gather by the Christmas tree upon the departure of the Christkind to open presents, the Bescherung. In some traditions, the departure of Christkind is announced by the ringing of a small bell, which the parents pretend to have heard or which is secretly done by someone. Due to the use of the Santa Claus figure in advertising since the 1990s, the Christkind tradition has become less popular and have been replaced by Santa’s German equivalent the Weihnachtsmann.
Spain – Los Reyes
Children in Spain also receive gifts on January 6th. They are brought to them by the Three Kings called Los Reyes Magos. Their names are: Gaspar, Melchor and Baltasar. The night before, children leave shoes on windowsills and balconies or under the Christmas Tree to be filled with presents. They also leave out water for the camels that the Kings travel on, and some sweets and drinks for the Three Kings.
Poland – Święty Mikołaj – Dziadek Mróz – Gwiazdor
Poles are lucky. They get presents twice. The First time is on 6th December and the second time is on Christmas Eve. Traditionally Święty Mikołaj, Dziadek Mróz or Gwiazdor visits Poles on 6th December on Saint Nicholas Day and they look through the windows to check if children have cleaned their shoes. If so, he leaves small sweets & treats or small toys in their shoes, next to the bed or under the pillow (depending on the region). If the shoes were left dirty or the children were naughty (because he knows, you know?) he leaves a birch-cane.
Russia – Ded Moroz
In Russia, children are visited by Ded Moroz on New Year’s Day with his granddaughter Snegurochka. She is made of snow and only wears silver. Russian Grandfather Frost differs from Santa as he does not fly in the sky, but travels on the ground; his robe may be blue or silver; he is girded with a rope, not a belt; he has a very long beard – often down to his knees. He always enters the house through the door, not through the chimney and he also carries a magic staff.
USA – the Santa as
we know it
Currently Santa is a jolly older, plump man dressed in a red costume and with a characteristic red hat. Before 1931, however, based on the Bishop of Myra, Santa was portrayed as anything from a tall gaunt man to a spooky-looking elf in an episcopal robe, with a sack of gifts for nice children in one hand and canes for naughty in the other. The original image of Santa was considered too serious as the company Coca-Cola wanted to show a wholesome Santa who was both realistic and symbolic. A Michigan-born illustrator, Haddon Sundblom, was commissioned to develop the advertising campaign that would show Santa himself rather than a man dressed as Santa. The image was inspired by the poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ leading to an image of a warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human Santa.
Who brings gifts in your country? Share your traditions in the comments below.