Santa’s Foreign Counterparts: The World of Christmas Gift-Bearers

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Santa Claus is one of the most adored characters in American folklore―and what’s not to love? He’s cheerful, efficient, and he always brings a gift (unless you’ve been naughty, that is). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the rest of the world is just as keen on this jolly, old fellow as us Yanks. But as this list proves, Father Christmas greatly varies from place to place.

Iceland’s version is, if nothing else, a little more grounded in realism. This is because there is not one, but 13 different gift-bringers known as Yule Lads, who travel to different parts of the world over the span of 13 nights. Good kids get sweets or toys, while bad kids are most often rewarded with rotten potatoes.

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While most Father Christmas figures somewhat mirror Santa’s physical appearance, Italy’s La Befana is one notable exception. She (not he) is a witch who transports a black sack full of gifts on the back of her broom stick. So next time you see a witch flying across the night sky, don’t get scared―she might be bringing you a present.

Same goes for children in certain areas of Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, and other Latin American countries. While many of them believe in Papa Noel to some extent, many consider the Christ child as the traditional gift-bringer. Obviously, little Jesus doesn’t need a sleigh or reindeer to deliver presents.

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Ded Moroz, honored across Eastern Europe, is a little more three-dimensionality than other variations. As legend goes, Ded was once an evil sorcerer who kidnapped and tortured children out of sheer pleasure. Now he brings them gifts in order to redeem himself for his previously wicked ways. He’s also accompanied by his much younger niece, Snegurochka (the ‘Snow Maiden’), who apparently isn’t too concerned about her uncle’s checkered past.

Ded Moroz isn’t the only Father Christmas incarnation who’s accompanied by a sidekick. Arguably the most frightening is Krampus, a demonic looking creature who, in most depictions, looks as though he belongs on stage with Gwar. Krampus means business, too, and he’s been known to beat or otherwise punish naughty children throughout central Europe. Another version of this character, Belsnickel, appears much less threatening, but essentially serves the same disciplinary purpose.

Then there’s the unfortunate case of ‘Black Peter’, a dark-skinned young man who acts as personal servant to Sinterklaas on his visits to Dutch children. During parades and other holiday festivities in the Netherlands, it’s quite common to see live actors portraying Black Peter―and often, it’s a caucasian individual wearing blackface makeup. Understandably, this character has not received a warm, worldwide reception.

Happy holidays from all of us at Pacsafe! And whatever you do, be nice to each other…otherwise you might get a visit from Krampus.

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