Listen to Article
For Americans, Santa Claus is a jolly, white-haired man in a red suit. But that is just one version of the generous being who brings well-behaved children toys on Christmas Eve. Here are a few of the many portrayals of Santa-like figures worldwide.
In France, children look forward to the arrival of Père Noël, or "Father Christmas," every year. The stylish Santa wears a fashionable red cloak with a fur-lined hood. He fills the shoes of well-behaved kids with small gifts or treats on Christmas Eve. Père Noël's companion, Père Fouettard, or the "Whipping Father," is not as friendly. His job is to "spank" kids who have been "naughty" during the year.
Children in Italy look forward to a visit from La Befana, or "Christmas Witch," on the night of January 5. Similar to Santa, La Befana enters homes late at night via the chimney. She brings 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 asked an elderly woman to join them. She declined because she wanted to finish cleaning her house. The old lady now flies across Italy on her broomstick every year in the hopes of finding and showering baby Jesus with gifts. The friendly, soot-covered witch is also known to sweep the houses she visits. To show their gratitude, families often leave her a glass of wine and a plate of traditional treats.
In Iceland, Christmas means a visit from the 13 Yule Lads. The gnome-like creatures take turns sneaking into kids' rooms on the 13 nights leading up to Christmas Eve. The presents depend on the personality of the Yule Lad on duty and differ daily. Kertasnýkir (Candle Stealer), who makes an appearance on Christmas Eve, is the most popular. The Yule Lad "steals" candles, but leaves behind the most generous presents.
Swiss children get a visit from two Santas every December 6. Samichlaus, the "good" Santa, comes with a donkey carrying a sack of treats for well-behaved kids. The "bad" Santa, called Schmutzli, has a bag of twigs for naughty kids. However, he rarely hands them out. Instead, he gently reminds kids to behave.
Resources: Insider.com, worldstrides.com, wikipedia.com