Santa Around the World!
Santa is indeed a very popular figure around the world. To Christians in the African Republic of Ghana, Father Christmas comes from the jungle. In Hawaii he comes by boat. On the Nerang River in Australia he rides water skis, wears a white beard and red bathing trunks. In Brazil Grandpapa Indian, Vovo Indo, brings gifts. In China, Santa Claus is called Dun Che Lao Ren, which means Christmas Old Man. He brings presents to good children. Being a culturally diverse and worldly fellow, Santa has many interpretations:
“Ghosts of the field” cleared the way for Saint Nicholas in parts of the Alps. Behind them came a man wearing a goat’s head, and a masked demon with a birch switch.
In Germany’s Berchtesgaden district, twelve young men dressed in straw and wearing animal masks danced along after Saint Nicholas , ringing cowbells. After gifts were given as each home, the masked men drove the young people out and beat them, or pretended to do so. This was symbolic punishment for having misbehaved. It had also been a part of a pagan ritual that was thought to ensure crops the following year.
The German Saint Nicholas also comes with a helper. He has different names in different parts of Germany: Knecht Ruprecht or Krampus in southern German; Pelzebock in the northwestern part of the country; and Hans Muff in the Rhineland. Like Black Peter, he carries a sack on his back and a rod in his hand. The helper was a frightening being given to ogre-like growls, quite the opposite of Saint Nicholas’ shining goodness.
Swedish children wait eagerly for Jultomten, a gnome whose sleigh is drawn by the Julbocker, the goats of the Thor, the god of thunder. He dresses in red and carries a bulging sack on his back.
In Denmark the gift bringer, Julemanden, also carries a sack and is drawn by reindeer. Elves called Juul Nisse are said to come from the attic, where they live, to help Julemanden. Children put a saucer of milk or rice pudding out for them in the attic and hope to find it empty in the morning.
In Poland the children’s gifts are said to come from the stars and in Hungary angels bring them.
In Syria children’s gifts come from the youngest camel on January 6th, which is Three Kings Day. In Spanish speaking countries such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina , Brazil, the Philippines and Spain, the Three Kings, themselves, give the gifts to the children.
Italian children also receive gifts on Three Kings Day, but the gift bearer is La Befana. La Befana refused to go to Bethlehem with the wise men when they passed her door because she had not finished her sweeping. Now she goes from place to place hoping that some day she will find the Christ Child. Everywhere she goes, she leaves a little gift.
In Russia the same ageless wanderer is called Baboushka. She gave the wise men the wrong directions and on the eve of Three Kings Day she wanders from house to house, peering into the faces of children and leaving gifts. Russia also has Grandfather Frost.
English children wait for Father Christmas, known to their ancestors as Christmas itself. In France gifts are also brought by Father Christmas, Pre Noel, or the Christ Child himself. In Austria and Switzerland the Christkindl bears gifts. In some towns Christkindl is a beautiful girl-angel sent down from heaven to give gifts.