For most Americans, Santa Claus is a jolly, white-haired man in a red suit. However, that is just one depiction of the generous being that brings toys to well-behaved children on Christmas Eve. Other countries have their own versions of Santa Claus who, in some cases, do not even appear during Christmas! Here are a few of the many portrayals of Santa-like figures from around the world.
Ded Moroz, Russia
Ded Moroz, or Father Frost, also brings presents for well-behaved children in Russia. However, there are some stark differences between him and Santa Claus. Ded Moroz is taller, skinnier, and always carries a silver or crystal pikestaff with a twisted grip. The Russian Santa Claus and his granddaughter Snegurochka, or Snow Maiden, deliver presents in a troika — a sleigh hauled by three horses.
Unlike Santa, who hails from the North Pole, Ded Moroz lives in the picturesque town of Veliky Ustyug in Northern Russia. He purportedly spends the summers reading gift requests from kids. However, those expecting presents during Christmas are in for a disappointment. Ded Moroz only makes deliveries on New Year's Eve!
La Befana, Italy
Children in Italy don't get a visit from Santa Claus. Instead, they look forward to the arrival of La Befana, or the Christmas Witch, on the night of January 5. Similar to the jolly fellow in red, La Befana enters houses via the chimney and fills stockings with presents and candy for "nice" children and coal for the "naughty" ones.
According to local folklore, when the Three Wise Men were seeking baby Jesus, they met an old woman and asked if she'd like to come along with them. She declined the offer because she wanted to finish cleaning her house. Now, every year, the old lady scours the skies on her broomstick in the hopes of finding and showering baby Jesus with gifts. The friendly, soot-covered witch is also known to sweep every house she visits. To show their gratitude, many families leave a glass of wine and a plate of traditional treats out the night before La Befana's visit.
The Yule Lads, Iceland
Every Christmas, kids in Iceland look forward to a visit from one of 13 Yule Lads, who take turns sneaking into their rooms on the 13 nights leading up to Christmas Eve. The merry but mischievous gnome-like creatures leave behind small gifts for good kids and rotten potatoes for naughty ones. The presents depend on the personality of the Yule Lad on duty and differ daily. The most popular one is Kertasnýkir (Candle Stealer). While the gnome, who makes an appearance on Christmas Eve, is known to steal candles, he also leaves behind the most generous presents.
Swiss children get a visit from two Santas every December 6. The good Santa, named Samichlaus, is accompanied by a donkey carrying a sack of treats like chocolates, peanuts, and mandarins to distribute to well-behaved kids. The "bad" Santa, called Schmutzli, lugs around a bag of twigs on his back. While they are purportedly for naughty kids, he rarely hands them out. Instead, he gently reminds kids to behave.
From DOGOnews and Santa Clauses Worldwide: Merry Christmas!
Resources: bonvoyagewithkids.com, Buinessinsider.com, worldatlas.com, Smithsonianmag.com