Santa Claus is a jolly fat guy with a white beard and red suit. He delivers toys to good girls and boys and rides a magical sleigh aided by a bunch of flying reindeer. Bad kids get coal in their stocking, but at least it keeps them warm on a cold winter’s night. He likes cookies, and drinks milk and Coca Cola. Most screwed up of all, he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, just like a stalker might. This, of course, is the American version of Santa. But in other parts of the world, they have a very different idea about who delivers Elmos and Lego blocks to children. Here’s a look at 10 of them.
1. Sweden, Norway and Denmark
Who is their Santa Claus? Jultomten, Julenissen and Julemanden; the Nordic gnomes
What’s their deal? They are garden-gnome-like characters based in Nordic folklore who protect farms and farmhouses against bad luck, but these days they live in the North Pole (Santa’s neighbors???) and give gifts to kids on Christmas.
Who is their Santa Claus? La Befana, the Yule witch of Italy
What’s Her Deal? She’s a witch who rides a boom!!! But the good kind of witch, guys. On January 5th – the Feast of the Epiphany – she flies over Italy and gives gifts to all the good boys and girls.
Who is Santa Claus Over there? The Yule Lads, the mischievous pranksters of Iceland
What’s their Deal? Wow, they sure don’t seem to have much of the Christmas spirit! The Yule Lads are 13 elves who are up to no good, guys. While Santa’s elves are all about making toys for kids, the Yule Lads are basically a band of trolls and haters who like to play pranks. But they aren’t entirely pure evil. The Yule Lads leave some candies and stuff for the good kids too. Yum!
4. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus
Who is Santa Claus Over there? Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost)
What’s His Deal? Ded Moroz wears a blue or red outfit with a furry hat or snowflake crown. He’s accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow maiden) who gives gifts to children on New Year’s Eve. Ded Moroz has its roots in Slavic mythology and its original story was pretty dark. He was something of a demonic figure who would kidnap naughty children. But these days he’s pretty chill.
5. Germany, Austria and Switzerland
Who is Santa Claus Over there? Christkind (Christ Child)
What’s Her Deal? During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther wanted to discourage followers from praying to saints, and thus they created the character of Christkind – who wears a crown and has long blond hair – as an alternative to St. Nicholas. Unlike many of the other ruthless Christmas characters on this list, Christkind isn’t interested in kidnapping or attacking children. Instead, she is essentially a female incarnate of Baby Jesus Himself, leaving gifts for the kiddies.
6. The Czech Republic
Who is Santa Claus Over there? Svatý Mikuláš and Ježíšek (St. Nick and Baby Jesus)
What’s their Deal? In Czech culture the cool Santa named Mikuláš and his little angelic helper, complete with wings and a halo, usually passes out candies and small gifts to the children. How cute is that!
7. United Kingdom
Who is Santa Claus Over there? Father Christmas
What’s His Deal? While American Santa with his red suit, hearty laugh – and one would presume, a nasally American accent – has made his way across the pond, Father Christmas sports a hooded green cloak, wears a wreath of holly on his head, and holds a staff that would no doubt impress Gandalf. Much like his other European counterparts, his appearance is rooted in pagan mythology.
Who is Santa Claus Over there? Los Reyes Magos (The biblical Magi)
What’s their Deal? In Spain, they basically get three Santa Clauses! Jealous? Modeled after the Three Wise Men, they go by the names of Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar. Spanish children write a letter to their favorite of the three asking for presents.
Who is Santa Claus Over there? Joulupukki (Yule goat)
What’s His Deal? He was originally an evil goat-like spirit associated with the Norse god Odin who would knock on doors and demand gifts and leftovers. But these days he’s a kindlier, gentler goat who instead knocks on doors looking for well-behaved children, whom he then showers with gifts.
Who is Santa Claus Over there? Dun Che Lao Ren (Christmas Old Man)
What’s His Deal? Well, it’s Laughing Buddha brings “the gift of happiness” to the Chinese people during the Spring Festival season (Christmas season). But the Christian children of China believe in Dun Che Lao Ren. You’ll be surprised but he wears a red suit and carries sacks full of gifts.