Father Christmas. Santa Claus. St Nick. However, he is referred to, everyone instantly knows who he is, with his velvety red outfit, his white fluffy beard and his distinctive ‘ho, ho, ho’. But did you know that in some places around the world this magical figure is replaced by someone altogether different, who sometimes even turns up on another day! Let’s take a look at a snapshot of Christmas figureheads across the world…
Père Noël shares many common characteristics with the red-faced, bearded gent we all know and love, except he swaps the red suit for a red cloak. He also doesn’t expect to be left any snacks on Christmas Eve– he asks for French children to leave their shoes by the fire filled with carrots and goodies for his animal companion, the donkey, instead. He traditionally travels with his not-so-cuddly companion, Père Fouettard, who is said to whip children who have not behaved during the year.
Italian children have two festive visitors. Babbo Natale is first, arriving on Christmas Eve with gifts for well-behaved little ones. Then, on January 5th, La Befana arrives, the Christmas witch! Don’t worry though, she’s just a housekeeper turned nice witch. She brings sweets and gifts and is also said to sweep the floor as she leaves, taking with her all the problems and stresses of the year. All she asks for in return is some wine (of course, it is Italy!) and snacks. Traditional Italians then swap gifts on the 6th of January, known as Epiphany.
If you spot Santa in South Korea, he might be wearing blue! Perhaps it’s because he can relax there – he doesn’t bring the gifts. It’s a low-key affair, with gift-giving usually limited to just one present each, exchanged within families. Many households still like to decorate, and it is a public holiday, but it’s a much more stripped-back event.
Sinterklaas turns up early here, bringing his gifts on the 5th of December. This festive figure comes ashore to a different port town each year and leads a merry procession through it, traditionally astride a white horse. Children leave their shoe by a fireplace, or on a windowsill, usually filled with carrots for the white horse, in hopes that Sinterklaas will visit in the night with some gifts.
Ded Moroz and Snegurochka – aka Father Frost and the Snow Maiden – are the traditional Christmas figureheads here. Ded Moroz is usually dressed in a similar outfit to our traditional Santa, but he wears blue, and has warmer accessories such as mittens and a fur hat – is it Russia in winter after all! He also carries a staff. His granddaughter Snegurochka helps him distribute gifts on New Year’s Eve.
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