Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Santas from All Over The World - Part 1

Inspired by the Holiday Spirit and the Polish Ladies Abroad Club Christmas talks, I want to tell you more about the Christmas gift givers so much awaited by children (and not only) all over the world at this time of the year.  In a way they are the same as they all bring presents, but yet, they are different at the same time. They look different, have different names and not always come on Christmas Day.

Here is the first part of my international Santas' story.


Austrian St. Nicholas has a jolly helper - an old woman called 'Budelfrau'. She is dresses in a colorful, patched and mended outfit and helps Santa carry and provide toys to good children. She also carries a bundle of switches which she uses to 'treat' all naughty boys and girls. However, since Budelfrau is a joyous character, she hardly ever punishes the kids who have not been good. If she does, she only spunks them lightly with a switch. More often the switches are used by parents as a reminder and a warning to the children (especially a week before Christmas) to be good and do what they are supposed to do.


Sometimes St. Nicholas and Budelfrau are assisted by a scary, devilish creature called Krampus. The latter one comes to 'reward' the bad children of course.


King Wenceslas (Vaclav), known from a popular carol, lived in Bohemia in 10th century. During his short life he wanted to convert Bohemia to Christianity and that is why he was trying to spread the idea of Christian generosity. He is often portrayed as a man kindling wood, bearing toys, food and other gifts According to a legend the king dressed in disguise happened to go to the woods in the night and chop down wood for his peasants.

Good King Wenceslas

At the age of 22, king Wenceslas was ambushed and killed by his brother Boleslav the Cruel and Boleslav's proponents. Due to his good deeds, the king was canonized and is the saint patron of Bohemia.

Statue of St. Wenceslaus / Prague


Eskimo Santa Claus looks Similar to American Santa, however the former one wears a furry, brown coat instead of a red one. Eskimo Santa is accompanied by Snow Baby - a blonde child dressed in a pink outfit trimmed with white fur. The baby has also toys for children - in her arms and on a sled. Both Eskimo gift givers wear snowshoes and a husky puppy is their assistant.


In this European country Jõuluvana (a gnom-like figure) brings fruits and sweets to good kids on Christmas Eve. Jõuluvana puts the gifts into and around children's slippers or near the bed on the windowsill.




Aunt Airie brings presents on Christmas Eve in certain region of France. She is an old lady who travels with her donkey Marion. The donkey carries a sack full of presents for well behaved children.

Aunt Airie



In the past, Christkindl (angel-like baby) was the gift bringer in Germany. Nowadays, he is often replaced by Weihnachtsmann, a tall, slim man with a white, long beard dressed in a long, red robe. He often carries a Christmas tree which is a main symbol of Christmas in Germany. Weihnachstmann brings the presents on Christmas Eve.


German Santa has also his assistant/servant. It is Knecht Ruprecht who helps to hand in all the gifts to good children and spanks the bad ones with a kind of rod. His face looks as if it has been darkened by ash or coal (a result of going down by chimneys), his  robe is a bit different from Santa's and not that elegant at all.

Knecht Ruprecht



On December 6, the Greek St. Nicholas arrives in a boat, dressed as a seaman. He is also the patron of the Greek sailors. He is supposed to save sinking ships that is why there are drops of sea water on his face and traces of brine on his beard. In Greece St. Nick gives children presents on New Year's Day and the holiday season ends on January 6.

Greek St. Nicholas

Nevertheless, St. Nicholas has also his part in Greek Christmas celebrations. As you can see in the picture (below) he wears different clothes then and is dressed in a long robe and a peaked hat.



Hungarian Santa comes on December 6 with small gifts and sweets (wrapped in red paper) for children.

Hungarian Santa



Thirteen Jolasveinar / Yule Tide Lads bring presents in Iceland (besides Santa). The merry lads live in a mountain and their names are: Woodfoot, Canalguy, Shorty, Spoonlicker, Poteater, Askalicker, Doorslammer, Cheese curds container, Sausagehooker, Windowpeaking, Smellynose, Meathooker and Candlesnatcher. Each of them brings a gift for good girls and boy - one daily, starting from December 12th.

Yule Tide Lad

The Yule Tide Lads celebrate Christmas in the lowlands and come back to their home mountain on January 6th. The number of characters is not accidental - there are thirteen Lads because, traditionally, thirteen days after Christmas the holiday season ends in Iceland.
The Yule Tide Lads are rather mischievous guys and, when they visit a home, they do what their names suggest.



The Gaelic name for Christmas Eve is 'Night of the Cakes' and, according to Irish tradition, special fruit cakes are prepared for the day. Father Christmas brings gifts for good children on Christmas Day.

Irish Father Christmas

December 26 is the day of the Wren Boy. In the past boys spent some part of the holidays 'on the wren', seeking and hunting wrens. These days, on Dec. 26 boys dress up in colorful costumes and go from house to house (somewhat like American trick-or-treating) carrying toy wrens which are often placed on branches of holly. Some boys play instruments and sing songs.

Wren Boy

On St. Stephen's Day money for the poor is also collected (by adults of course) instead of treats.

Pictures - Krampus and Monument of St. Wenceslaus by Peter Parlor from Wikimedia Commons 

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