The most wonderful time of the year is officially in full swing, which means our children and their little friends have begun their favorite Christmas tradition: The interrogation: How do reindeer fly? What’s a yule log? Why don’t you like our elf on the shelf? Where do sugarplum fairies live?
And then there’s the inevitable question at the heart of childhood, which can be a bit tricky to answer: Is Santa Claus real?
Here’s the deal, fam; at some point, everyone asks if the big guy is real. And the short answer in every way that matters is, “YES, old St. Nick is absolutely real!”
But not only that — he’s legendary. Besides, if Mr. C didn’t really exist, then who has Mrs. Clause been married to all this time… the Grinch? Yeah, we don’t think so.
One of the most ubiquitous figures in modern-day culture, the jolly old elf called Saint Nicholas, is loved far and wide by kids and adults of all ages. It doesn’t matter if you’re two or 102; the magic of Santa Claus can turn just about any frown upside down.
That being said, you may know the bearded North Pole resident as a list-makin’, cookie-snackin,’ gift-givin’ icon who can shimmy down a chimney in a matter of seconds. However, different versions of him are celebrated all over the globe, with quite a few notable differences.
In this post, we’re exploring the magical world of Santa Claus to uncover the origins behind the big man in red. From the Netherlands to Germany and Iceland to Scandinavia, we’ll give you the holiday scoop from around the world.
Ready to sleigh? Let’s go!
Our beloved mascot of the holiday season, there’s just something about that jolly Saint Nick that brings lots of cheer.
Regardless of why he makes you smile, there’s no denying that Mr. Clause is the real MVP of Christmas time — but have you ever wondered where the tradition of Santa came from?
Despite what you may think, Kris Kringle wasn’t put together with a little sugar n’ spice and everything nice.
He didn’t hop out of a pot of gold or POOF into existence from a corncob pipe.
The man decked in red never made shoes while the shoemaker snoozed or whipped up batches of cookies in trees.
Before he was the mythical, magical entity, Mr. C was just a good dude on a mission to help those in need.
Let's pull out the historical records; it's time for the tradition of Saint Nicholas.
The history of Santa Claus takes us back hundreds of years ago to a young bishop who went by the name of St. Nicholas.
Born in a town called Patara in Turkey (well, modern-day Turkey), Nicholas was neither fat nor jolly. He also had zero connection to Christmas and was a bit rebellious. No, we don’t mean he rebelled against curfew or liked to do graffiti in his free time.
You see, Nick defended Christianity during the Roman persecution of the church when priests faced execution if they didn’t renounce their religion.
While it wasn’t instantaneous, Nicholas eventually attained sainthood status after becoming widely associated with many miracles. He also had a reputation for his devotion to giving gifts to needy families and protecting kids and sailors.
Physically, Saint Nick was represented similarly to earlier European deities like the Norse god Odin or Roman Saturn: white-bearded gents with vast magical powers.
Fast forward to the 1500s, Nicholas remained a popular figure in all of Europe until the Protestant Reformation, which discouraged the practice of honoring saints. Of course, Nick didn’t let this rain on his parade and continued to do his thing in keeping children safe.
As time continued to tick forward, an annual tradition was created on St. Nicholas’ birthday, December 6th. The night before, kids put out their shoes, and those who were well-behaved would wake up to find gifts left by Nick in the morning. Hopefully, their favorite Christmas socks were left untouched. Cue all the cozy, good feelings.
From then on, the legend of the sweet saint traveled throughout the world, evolving like a game of telephone from country to country. This is probably why there are so many different versions of Santa Claus.
That being said, despite the modifications to the story topic over time, the general premise has always remained the same: If kids are good throughout the year, then a magical bearded man in a white-fur, red cloak will break into their homes in the middle of the night and leave gifts.
Though Mr. Claus and his adorable tiny reindeer shimmy down chimneys across America on Christmas Eve, he’s certainly not the only mythical being who swings by around the holidays. In fact, in other parts of the world, people think of the magical gift-giving legend differently.
So with that in mind, let’s take a peek at some of the most popular versions of St. Nick from around the globe:
The birthplace of pizza and pasta, Italy is also home to the local legend of a beloved woman known as La Befana.
Essentially the lady version of Saint Nick, La Befana is a super friendly old woman with incredible magical powers who delivers toys via a chimney to good kids and coal or soot to bad kids.
Also known as the Christmas Witch, La Befana doesn’t have a sweet tooth like Kris Kringle and prefers a nice glass of wine over milk and a juicy sausage in lieu of cookies.
Literally translated as “Grandfather Frost,” Ded Moroz is the traditional holiday gift-giver of Slavic countries in Eastern Europe.
Like Mr. C, Ded Moroz rocks a flowing red costume and sports a long white beard, but he doesn’t rely on the magic of flying reindeer to get him around town. Instead, he rides a traditional Russian horse-drawn sled called a troika.
Said to appear on New Year’s Eve, Ded Moroz presents little ones with gifts while accompanied by his beautiful granddaughter, Snegurochka — aka, the “Snow Maiden.”
A great way to think of this mischievous group is by picturing a Christmas version of The Seven Dwarves — except there are thirteen of them, they hand out gifts, look like pint-sized Santas, and there’s no Snow White.
Known for their playful nature, each Yule Lad will leave small gifts and candy in the shoes of kids with good morals for the 13 nights leading up to Christmas.
In Germany, Santa Claus is pretty much the same jolly old gift-giver as he is in America, but with one itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny difference: he’s accompanied by an undeniably terrifying, out-for-blood horned beast called Krampus.
With a moniker that derives from the German word for “claw,” Krampus serves as the resident heavy hitter of Kris Kringle’s gift-givin’ crew. He serves beatings and other medieval-style punishments to the bad kids on Santa’s naughty list.
Another intimidating character who accompanies Mr. C in Germany, Belsnickel, is depicted as a huge mountain man covered head to toe in fur. Like his buddy Krampus, Belsnickel is also a disciplinarian of Santa’s entourage and will gladly punish a child for their bad behavior.
At first, Jultomten started out as tiny house gnomes who were on a mission to protect children and animals. Things changed a bit over the years, however, and eventually, the little fellas began to take on the appearance of Santa Claus and even started delivering gifts to well-behaved kiddos.
To show your thanks for the tiny gnomes, skip the cookies and be sure to leave out a yummy bowl of porridge with butter instead.
The Hungarian equivalent of old Saint Nick, Mikulas, arrives at the party on December 6th and leaves long before Christmas, presenting sweet gifts to the well-behaved children of Hungary.
If you were left with a wooden spoon, pieces of raw potatoes, or lumps of coal, those were some good indicators that Mikulas did not get enjoyment from your activities.
Papa Noel, or Père Noël, is the official title for Santa Claus over in the beautiful country of France.
Although fairly similar to the iconic Kris Kringle in America, there are a few differences that make this version French — and no, it’s not because he struts his stuff with a baguette in hand, nor does he say “Oh, la, la” instead of “Ho, ho, ho.”
For example, instead of milk and cookies, French Santa prefers a glass of wine. And when kids are naughty, they don’t get coal. What do they get, you ask? A whooped bum. Yep, Papa Noel is a fan of beating the bad behavior right out of naughty children.
Getting nothing but coal doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
And there you have it — a look into the origin and many legends of Santa Claus!
Whether you call him Santa, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, or any of the other monikers he’s called around the globe, there’s no denying our love for the jolly old soul.
While the legend behind the saint tends to vary from country to country, the premise always remains the same: If children are on their best behavior throughout the year, then a magical bearded elf will reward them with gifts.
This holiday season, represent the man in red with an awesome tee from yours truly here at Famous IRL. From tanks and t-shirts to sweaters and hoodies, we have just what you need to sleigh all day!