Christmas is a Holy Christian observance that is often celebrated with imaginative, fanciful traditions from folklore and legend. Santa Claus is a legendary personality, similar to St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Sinterklass, and Julenisse. Christkindl, representing the Christ Child, started bringing small gifts to children in Germany during the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther, St. Nicholas, Santa Claus and German Christkindl.
Christmas personalities are authority figures who bring gifts to good children. In some cultures the Santa Claus figure is feared because he knows all and sees all and may decide children are bad and leave nothing or something like a lump of coal.
As people move around the world, traditions mix and change with time. The United States is a melting pot of cultures with different traditions observed by the many ethnic groups in the country. Likewise, many cultures may adopt the traditions of neighboring countries.
The following are some different Santa figures and traditions around the world.
- Austria- St. Nicholas Eve is celebrated on December 6th. Christmas Eve is when families gather for dinner. Christkindl, a young woman dressed in robes, visits Austrian homes and gives gifts to children.
- Belgium- Dutch speaking Belgians are visited by St. Nicholas on December 6th. Francophone's are visited by Pere Noel on December 6th.
- England- Father Christmas fills stockings or pillowcases with presents for children.
- Germany- There are different traditions in Germany, depending upon the region and religion. St. Nicholas Day is observed by Catholic Families, Christkindl, an angelic figure in a white robe representing the Christ Child, visits many Protestant homes. There is also a Santa Claus type figure called Weihnachtsmann who brings gifts.
- Hungary- December 6th is St. Nicholas Day, an important winter holiday in Hungary. Children leave their shoes out for St. Nicholas to fill with chocolate candy and other goodies.
- Ireland- Children in Ireland leave stockings or pillowcases at the end of their beds, hoping that Father Christmas will visit and fill them with treats.
- Italy- The Italian equivalent of Santa Claus is La Befana. The elderly, witch like woman flies above Italy on a broomstick to give gifts to the children on Epiphany Day.
- Lebanon- Papa Noel is the Santa Claus in Lebanon. Children wait for Papa Noel to leave presents near the manger under the Christmas tree.
|St. Nicholas and Black Peter|
- Mexico- The Magi leave gifts for children on Christmas Eve.
- Puerto Rico- The Magi, or three Kings-Malchor, Gaspar and Baltazar, visit and leave gifts for children in Puerto Rico.
|Grandfather Frost and handmaiden|
- Russia- St. Nicholas delivered Christmas gifts in Russia until communist rule, when Grandfather Frost took over. Grandfather Frost usually wears a blue suit instead of the red suit of Santa Claus. A handmaiden accompanies Grandfather Frost.
Slovenia- St. Nicholas and mischievous elves visit to scare children who have misehaved during the year.
- Sweden- The Christmas gnome, called Tomte, is supposed to live under the floorboards of the house or barn. Tomte brings a sack of gifts and distributes them to kids.
- Switzerland- The Christkindl appears as a beautiful angel dressed in white and lights the candle on the Christmas tree and distributes gifts to children.
- United States- Santa Claus flies in a sled drawn by flying reindeer and slides down the chimney to deliver gifts to children. St. Nicholas also visits many homes on St. Nicholas Day.