Santas around the world

By mbrooks on December 8, 2019
circa 1885: Father Christmas arrives with a Christmas tree to the delight of the children in this Victorian greetings card. J Mansell (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

By Matthew Brooks

It is common knowledge that Santa covers the entire world delivering presents for Christmas morning.

Traveling to many different nations, it makes sense that Santa would be known by different names.

A Santa by any other name…

Austria, Belgium, and the Czech Republic use a variant on the name of St. Nicholas. These countries translate his name and title into their own languages.

England, Brazil, Italy and France refer to Santa as Father Christmas.

Chile calls the Christmas gift-bringer Viejito Pascuero, or Old Man Poinsettia.

Far across the Pacific from Chile, in China, Santa is an old man, too. Chinese children call him Sheng dan lao ren, which means Old Man Christmas.

The witch, the gnome, and the goat

In some parts of Italy, children receive presents on January 5 from a woman named Epiphany Eve. The Jan. 5 gift-giver is La Befana, the Christmas witch.

The idea of Santa as a large, jolly man is more recent. Santa has been recognized a gift-giving elf in some places, including in antebellum America.

Norway has not an elf, but a gnome. The Julenissen, or Christmas Gnome, is the man of the Christmas day in Norway.

Finland has carried over the name of pagan tradition to its Christmas traditions for December man of presents. Joulupukki, or Christmas Goat, is the name of Santa in a land of the midnight sun.

Brazilian tradition says Papai Noel lives in Greenland. He wears silk clothing during the warmer summer months.

In Japan, there is Santa-san, or Mr. Santa. There is also Hoteiosho, a kind man who has Santa-like body proportions and carries a large sack full of toys. In Japan, Christmas also has the romantic connotations of Valentine’s Day. Think of it: two holidays is one. It’s efficient just to get them over with.

Russia has Dedushka Moroz, or Grandfather Christmas. Russians call him Grandfather Frost. It’s not the Grandfather who brings presents in Russia. That’s the job of Grandma, or Babushka. According to tradition, she was a woman who declined to go with the wise men to see the baby Jesus. She later regretted this decision and now brings her gifts to children.

In the United States of America, we give Santa many names. We have tender feelings for the one who brings joys and toys, after at all. We know the great one as Santa, St. Nick, Kris Kringle, and of course, mom and dad.

Around the site