If there’s one symbol of Christmas that everyone can identify, it’s the jolly, fat, man with a twinkle in his eye and a bright red suit. While this American idea of Santa Clause is one of the most prominent, many countries around the world – Christian or otherwise – have their own beloved form of the gift-giving old man.
The name “Santa Clause” doesn’t always translate. In Belgium and France he’s known as Pere Noel, which is a close translation of his name in the United Kingdom, Father Christmas. In Chile, they call him Viejo Pascuero, or Old Man Christmas; in China, Dun Che Lao Ren is basically Christmas Old Man. Russians call him Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, Norwegians call him Julenissen, or Christmas Gnome, and Germans have a mouthful with their name which means Christmas Man: weihnachtsmann. In Poland, they keep it close to his origins as Saint Nicolas by calling him Swiety Mikolaj.
Santa gets a lot of credit for managing to visit every home in the world in one night, but his secret may be that he actually spreads out his visits! In Russia, Grandfather Frost comes around the New Year – and he brings his granddaughter with him to help deliver gifts and make it festive. In places like Spain, Portugal, Italy, and many Latin-American nations, children receive gifts on January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany, rather than on Christmas itself. Dutch children start the celebrations early, when Sinter Klaas arrives on the first Saturday in November to leave little trinkets like candy in their shoes; gifts are exchanged on December 5th.
Although many cultures have a figure who gives gifts around this time of year, not all of them are a jolly fat man with reindeer. In many Spanish-speaking countries, the three magi (wise men) are actually the ones who deliver gifts to children, arriving on January 6th ;instead of leaving cookies out for Santa, children leave grass, straw, or carrots for the camels to snack on. In other Spanish-speaking nations, Baby Jesus brings the gifts.
Whether you greet Santa and his reindeer or Three Wise Men and their camels this year, have a happy, generous holiday season!