Santa Around the World
Americans know our Santa Claus traditions like the backs of our hands.
Naughty-or-nice lists (with coal for the naughty!).
Presents under the tree, and milk-and-cookies for left out to fuel Santa’s remaining journey.
Let’s not forget about the elves who, despite what must be incredibly small hands, adroitly construct each of Santa’s wonderful toys!
Oh, and the part when the children are 9 or 10 and begin to realize….well, actually, let’s save that for another article!
But what about how Santa and Christmas are celebrated around the rest of the world?
From the scary to the adorable, keep reading for 7 examples of Santa around the world!
1. Iceland – The Yule Lads
While Americans are familiar with our concept of the 12 days of Christmas, Iceland – along with many other countries throughout the world – use 13 days as the measure to celebrate and give gifts over the holiday season.
The Yule Lads, or Yulemen, are a series of Icelandic gift-givers that are somewhat reminiscent of Snow White’s 7 dwarfs, except in this case there are obviously 13 of them!
Perhaps due to Icelandic’s dim winters, the Yule Lads are often left to mischief, including leaving rotten potatoes in the shoes of naughty children or spying in their rooms, looking for things to steal while the kids are sleeping!
For those who have been good, however, the Yule Lads will leave small gifts in the shoes of children during the 13 days leading up to Christmas!
2. Italy – La Befana
Given how children are predisposed to be scared of monsters under the bed, it’s quite interesting that the Italians use the image of La Befana – an old, objectively horrifying-looking witch – to celebrate Christmas.
While she may look unpleasant on the outside, La Befana and her origin story are, in fact, quite charming and heart-warming.
The story goes that, while en route to visit the newborn Christ, the 3 wise men stopped by La Befana’s home for shelter. Thanking her for kindness, the wise men invited La Befana to join them on their journey. She declined, but later regretted it and rushed to join the wise men.
She never did catch up with them, and makes up for this and other regrets in her past life by flying across Italy to leave gifts and candy for the nice children – while still leaving coal for those who are naughty!
3. Brazil – Papai Noel
If you’ve ever wondered how those who live in the southern hemisphere – where Christmas occurs in the dead of summer – celebrate Christmas, look no further than Brazil and Papai Noel.
Here, the incarnation of Santa Claus originates in Greenland and arrives in Brazil wearing robes of silk – not because he’s particularly fashion-forward (although he may just be, I mean no disrespect, Papai Noel!), but to beat the Brazilian heat!
Aside from his fashion sense, Papai Noel is not so different from the American Santa Claus.
Papai Noel comes to Brazilian homes each Christmas and leaves small gifts in shoes left out by children, although rumor is that he occasionally feels creative and hides gifts elsewhere in the home!
4. United Kingdom – Father Christmas
Given how linked the United States and United Kingdom are culturally, it will probably be very surprising to learn just how different Father Christmas, the United Kingdom’s version of Santa Claus, really is from our own jolly good fellow.
For starters, Father Christmas just looks different. He always carries a large staff in lieu of a sack of gifts (more on that later!), and is dressed wearing an all-green cloak, punctuated by a wreath of ivy and holly.
Where Father Christmas is most different, however, in his conduct. Namely: he doesn’t bring gifts!
No, he is simply responsible for bringing the good cheer and warm spirit of Christmas to his denizens, leaving children look elsewhere (hm, I wonder where that might be?) for their seasonal gift haul!
5. Japan – Hoteiosho
In keeping with Japanese culture, their version of Santa Claus, or Hoteiosho, is a Buddhist monk who, not unlike our Santa Claus, carries a large cloth sock of gifts to go along with his even larger belly!
Dressed in a red cloak, Hoteiosho is known in Japanese culture for being a figure that’s always jovial, kind, and – by definition – generous!
He does, however, keep in mind who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, aided by eyes in the back of his head!
Be careful, children, Hoteisho is always watching!
6. France – Père Noël
Unlike his Father Christmas counterpart across the Channel, France’s Père Noël looks more like a Santa Claus familiar to most Americans.
Sporting a large red cloak and hat, Père Noël – in what astute readers will have already noticed is something of a European tradition – leaves gifts in shoes left out by children who have spent the year being nice.
And what about the naughty, you ask?
Well, in a Santa around the world tradition that I find both hilarious and slightly disturbing, Père Noël has a sidekick named Père Fouettard, or the “whipping” father, who trots around France spanking the naughty ones!
7. Hungary – Mikulás
Like other European countries, Hungary features a Christmas tradition that involves children leaving shoes around the house in which Santa will, ideally leave many gifts for the deserving children!
Hungary is no different, although a slight modification involves children, rather than leaving shoes near the traditional areas of near the bed or fireplace, leaving their shoes near the windows, in the hopes that Mikulás will better see them from his fly-overs!
Also, rather than leaving coal or rotten food in the shoes of naughty children, Mikulás’s calling card is leaving a wooden spoon to those less-than-perfect children.
Guess he wouldn’t them going, um, hungary!
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