While everyone celebrates Christmas or some similar variation of the holiday in December that receives gifts, the person that delivers that gifts is not alway the holly jolly fat man that we in the United States revere.
Some of the present givers are down right creepy. However each present delivery person comes with a rich story and some of them even draw parallels between the Santa Claus we enjoy in the United States.
There are probably at least 50 different variations of Santa Claus. I would imagine that at least every country probably has their own story. It would take quite awhile to go through them all, so I have picked out the most interesting of the legends.
If you have any interesting little characters to share, feel free to leave a comment!
Scandinavia (Finland, Norway, and Sweden)
The Tomte originated as a gnome-like creature but has evolved and become more like Santa Claus over the years. Originally the Tomte gnome watched over the farmland and protected the humans that farmed there. However, the Tomte was not always so sweet, if the people mistreated the farmland they would play mean tricks on them.
For some reason as Christianity spread over the land, the Tomte evolved into a version of Santa to go along with Christmas. The modern Tomte has grown more human features to take after the holly jolly fat man. The Tomte, however, if not fat at all. They are a slim gift bringer. They also, like Santa, ride in a sleigh with their gifts. However, this sleigh does not fly and is instead pulled by a goat. The Tomte is often said the live in the forest right outside the child's house. The Tomte is not as secretive as Santa, they will bring their gifts right to the child.
In Scandinavia, it is the adults responsibility if they want their children to believe the legend to dress up as the Tomte and bring gifts to the children in person.
La Befana looks like she should be related to Halloween than to Christmas. La Befana has many witch-like qualities. The look like and old hag who flies around on her rickety old broomstick. She is said to carry presents on the sack in her back. However, La Befana likes to slip down the chimney and leave gifts for good kids and lumps of coal for the bad.
Being the best cleaner in all of Italy, she will sweep up the chimney area, which undoubtedly got very dirty as she crawled down it, before she leaves. If your child should happen to spot her, she will thwack them in the face with her broom. This is an excellent way to get children not to peek at Christmas time.
There are a lot of different origin stories for La Befana, but the most accepted one was that she was a kind woman who gave shelter to the three wise men as they journeyed to see the new baby Jesus. How she turned into a flying witch lady that gave presents, it does not say.
Austria, Germany and Hungary
In the countries of Austria, Germany and Hungary, Santa is still the holly jolly belly full of jelly man of yore however he is followed by something sinister--The Krampus. You know how the mob always has that one big guy called 'The Enforcer'? The Krampus is Santa's Enforcer. He follows the happy man around and literally lays the beat down on naughty children.
No joke, he beats up naughty kids. I think that is a better incentive to be good than merely getting a lump of coal. If a child was particularly naughty, the terrifying Krampus would abduct the child, toss them in a burlap sack and chuck them in a river.
The Krampus has faded out of most modern legends of Santa in the area, however he does have a holiday in parts of Austria called Krampus day where people put on Krampus masks and parade in the streets mocking the being.
Sinterklaas is thought to be the biggest influence on modern Santa Claus as we know it. Sinterklaas travels around with his happy attitude, long flowing white beard and signature red suit. Unlike our Santa Claus, Sinterklaas seems to rely on human transportation instead of fancy flying sleighs. Each year at the end of November, Sinterklaas will take the ferry over from Spain, where he apparently hangs out the rest of the year, and delivers presents to children on December 5th.
December 5th is a popular time to deliver presents for European Santas. The December 5th holiday celebrates the Saint Nicholas instead of the birth of Christ. Sinterklaas delivers presents with the help of his manservant Black Peter. Black Peter at first was a mere servant, even possibly a slave, Due to the racial overtones this has had, he has evolved into a chimney sweep over the years.
It is said that Black Peter would hop down the chimney and leave gifts for the good kids and bags of salt for the bad. In the past, Black Peter was said to kidnap children and whisk them off the Spain, not unlike the Krampus.
UK, France, Spain and Portugal
Father Christmas, like Sinterklaas, has played a large part in influencing the modern American Santa Claus. Father Christmas was not originally a gift giver, he was a bit like a drunken bumpkin in a way. He was a carrier of good times and cheer and just wanted to spread it around the world like it was soft butter. Father Christmas, unlike Santa Claus, wore a fuzzy robe of green.
Eventually, Father Christmas did a bit of merging with Sinterklaas. He became a gift giver and road around in a flying sleigh with reindeer. Father Christmas and Sinterklaas merged together with a few of the other legends and had a baby called Santa Claus!
Our country is young compared to the rest of the world, thus our beloved Christmas idol is also a young little legend.