Christmas Icons Around The World

While many people in North America recognize Santa Claus as their Christmas gift-giver, people in other countries around the world may recognize completely different Christmas gift-givers.

While some people in other countries recognize a variation of Santa Claus, other countries recognize entirely different icons and celebrate Christmas in different ways than people in the United States.

However, almost all Christmas icons serve to spread the Christmas spirit and promote giving, both to friends and loved ones and to the less fortunate.

Christmas Icons: Canada and the United States

In America and Canada, children hear stories about Santa Claus, his reindeer, the North Pole and Santa”s elves. Santa Claus was originally known as St. Nicholas and was represented as a man with a flying wagon who brought presents to children.

Later, the wagon turned into a sleigh and the flying reindeer were brought into the story. A “naughty and nice” list was also a later addition to the stories surrounding Santa Claus.

Christmas Icons Worldwide

Here”s a list of some worldwide countries and the Christmas gift-givers each recognizes:

  • Belgium: In Belgium, St. Nicholas is known as Pre Nol. Unlike in the United States, where Santa Claus is thought to leave coal for those who don”t behave, Pre Nol leaves twigs and sticks for the naughty children. Belgians celebrate Pre Nol”s birthday on Dec. 6, separately from Jesus” birthday on Dec. 25.
  • Brazil: Santa Claus is known in the Brazilian tradition as Papai Noel, who is a resident of Greenland, not the North Pole. Papai Noel wears silk clothing to suit the warmer locale, instead of the red suit that makes him so recognizable in North American stories.Christmas activities in Brazil revolve around decorating, feasting and dancing, rather than gift-giving like in other countries.
  • Czech Republic: Svaty Mikalas is the Czech Republic”s variation of St. Nicholas. Svaty Mikalas descends from heaven on a golden rope and brings a whip-carrying devil for the naughty children.Czechs traditionally bring a branch from a cherry tree into their homes on Dec. 4. If the branch blooms before Christmas, it is believed that the family will experience good luck and a short winter.
  • Denmark: Julemanden is the name of the Danish Christmas gift-giver, who travels with his mischievous elf, Julenisse. Julenisse wears red stockings and enjoys playing tricks on naughty children. On Christmas Eve, children leave out rice pudding to prevent Julenisse from playing a joke on them.
  • France: Like Belgians, the French recognize Pre Nol as their Christmas gift-giving figure. French children leave out their wooden clogs for Pre Nol to fill with presents. Pre Nol also traditionally decorates Christmas trees, while his companion, Pre Fouettard, keeps track of who”s been naughty and nice.
  • Germany: In Germany, the beginning of the Christmas celebration is Dec. 6. Germany”s Der Weinachtsmann is similar to the American Santa Claus. Germans also recognize Christkind, Christ”s messenger who visits each house with a basket of gifts.
  • Italy: Italy”s recognized gift-giver is La Befana. Italian children expect La Befana to visit on Jan. 6.A story exists that tells of La Befana refusing to give the Three Wise Men food and shelter as they traveled to visit the baby Jesus. She later realized her error and has ever since traveled the world searching for them and being generous with gifts to all good children, in case Jesus is among them.
  • Japan: Despite the fact that most people of Japan are not Christian, the Japanese have adopted many of the American Christian traditions surrounding Christmas. Hoteiosho is a priest that looks similar to Santa Claus, except that he has eyes in the back of his head to help him spot any sneaky, naughty children.
  • Netherlands: According to Dutch stories, on Dec. 5, Sinterklaas, the Dutch variation of Santa Claus, sails from Spain and travels around the country on horseback. Children are told to fill their shoes with hay for Sinterklaas” horse. If they do so, they will find presents in the morning.
  • Norway: Norway recognizes Julebukk, the “Christmas buck,” a goat-like creature that can be traced back to the days of the Vikings. To prevent Julebukk from playing tricks on them, children must leave him a bowl of porridge on Christmas Eve.Unlike most international Christmas icons, Julebukk doesn”t leave gifts for children: They must go door to door seeking gifts.
  • Russia: While Russia recognizes Dedoushka Moroz or “Father Christmas,” he is a secondary figure to Baboushka, a present-bearing woman. Russians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6 by singing carols and attending churches decorated with flowers.
  • Spain: Spaniards believes that the Three Wise Men travel on Christmas Eve while families feast and celebrate the birth of Jesus. Children leave straw in their shoes in hopes that they will feed the donkey of Balthazar, one of the Three Wise Men.
  • Sweden: Sweden honors two figures for Christmas:
    1. St. Lucia: St. Lucia fed persecuted Christians. In her honor, the eldest daughter of a Swedish family carries food to each family member on Dec. 13.
    2. Tomte: For Christmas, another family member dresses as the Tomte, a red-robed, bearded gnome that bears gifts.
  • United Kingdom: On Christmas Eve in the United Kingdom, Father Christmas, the United Kingdom”s version of Santa Claus, dons a long robe and delivers gifts to children”s stockings. On Christmas Day, there is a feast and people exchange gifts.