Did you ever wonder where it all came from, this Santa Claus thing? I mean, ever since I was a young boy growing up in the upper midwest, I had always wondered who this big, white-bearded guy in the red suit was and why did I have to sit in his lap and ask him for presents? And just how did this guy with his sack full of toys get down my chimney anyway? I always wondered about my friends who had no chimney in their house. And why does he live at the North Pole anyway? Do kids in other parts of the world get visits from Santa? These were the questions I asked when I was a young child.
“Father Christmas” or “Santa Claus” as we know him today is the personal face of Christmas. In countries all over the world, people see his image everywhere during the holiday season – the old man with the red suit, long white beard and huge bag of toys. From way back in history until today, Santa history has developed into what we see in shopping malls today. The stocky, red-suited, white bearded, ageless legend of the gift-giver. Some folks say Santa Claus embodies of the true spirit of giving. Others say this modern image of Santa Claus conflicts with the true meaning of Christmas and promotes commercialism and greed. So what does Santa look like around the world and from where did the modern day Santa originate? Almost all versions of Santa, no matter what he is called, originate from the desire in people’s hearts to share love and generosity, especially toward children. Here are just a few examples:
• In Germany, Santa Claus is sometimes called Saint Nicholaus. Saint Nicholas became known as “der Weinachtsmann”, or the Christmas man. Many childen place a boot, or “Nikolaus-Stiefel” just outside the front door of their home on the night of December 5th. Sometime during the night, St. Nickolaus (St. Nick) fills the boots with gifts, toys, sweets and checks up on the kids to see if they’ve been good or bad that year. If they were bad, they get a lump of coal in their boot.
• In England, children wait for “Father Christmas” to bring them gifts on Christmas Eve.
• In Switzerland, “Christkindl” is an angel who comes down from heaven to give gifts to all the children.
• In France, kids leave their shoes by the fireplace and “Pere Noel” brings gifts to them on Christmas Eve.
• In Austrailia, Santa wears a red swimsuit and rides on waterskis.
• In Italy, Santa is known as “Babbo Natale”. Some kids leave their shoes by the fireplace on the eve of january 6th, waiting for the good witch, “La Befana” to come down the chimney and leave gifts.
• In Sweden, “Juletomten” the gnome brings gifts to children in a sliegh pulled by goats.
• In Spain, Mexico and South America, kids wait until January 6th to get their gifts from three kings or wise men.
• In China, Christian children wait for “Dun Che Lao Ren” or “Shengdan Laoren”- the “Christmas Old Man” to fill their muslin stockings with gifts and treats.
• In Norway, Santa Claus also known as “Julenissen” comes by with gifts on Christmas Eve.
• In Russia, “Babushka”, which means grandmother, gives out gifts to children who have been good. There is also a figure known as “Dedushka Moroz” which means Grandfather Christmas or Grandfather Frost.
• In Japan, Santa is known as “Hoteiosho” which means a god or priest who bears gifts, or “Santa no ojisan”, which means Uncle Santa.
No matter what he is called around the world, Father Noel, Sinter Klaas, Diado Coleda, or Nino Jesus – The spirit of Santa Claus is alive in the hearts of children and adults alike everywhere. Whether you believe in Santa or not, take some time this holiday season and spread some love, good cheer and the spirit of generosity around your town and to the folks around you – wherever you live.