The Many Faces of Santa


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Santa Claus actually started out as a version of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea, known as Neptune by the Romans. Early Greek sailors feared him. He could bring terrible storms in the sea, or grant them safe journeys. Because he could save them from the angry waters, he because known as “giver of all good things". The Romans and Greeks held a festival on December 6 in his honor.

Many countries still celebrate Christmas on December 6 but due to the rise of Christianity, the day was changed to St. Nicholas Day in honor of an Asian bishop. Nicholas of Myra was a benevolent bishop who wore red clothing, rode a white horse who could fly, and delivered gifts anonymously.

In America, we celebrate with Santa and his flying reindeer.

But many countries still celebrate with their own unique version of Santa.

In Sicily, it is the spirits of departed loved ones who bring gifts to children.

Italian children wait for a kindly old witch named Befana who flies through the air on a broom.

A Russian counterpart is known as Baboushka. Also called Grandfather Frost in some parts of the country.

In Holland “Sintirklass" arrives by boat on December 6th. Children leave a wooden shoe filled with hay and carrots for the donkey which carries the pack of toys.

In Sweden a gnome called “Juletomten" brings gifts in a sleigh driven by goats.

In Germany and Switzerland the “Christkindl", or Christ Child, brings the gifts. In some towns, Christkindl is an angel who comes down from heaven to give gifts.

In Australia Santa rides water skis, has a white beard, and red bathing suit.

In China, Christmas Old Man, brings gifts to children.

In England, Father Christmas wears a longer coat and has a longer beard.

In France he's known as Pere Noel.

All of Latin America and Spain are predominantly Catholic so Baby Jesus, el Niño Jesus, brings the gifts.

In Puerto Rico, children receive gifts from the Three Kings on January 6th, also called Epiphany. Every child puts grass under their bed for the camels. In the morning the grass is replaced with gifts. But since Puerto Rico is part of the United States, major gift giving is done on December 25 from Santa Claus.

In Morocco he is known as Black Peter.

In Japan, Santa Claus is called just “Santa" and many children still call him “Santa no ojisan, " which means “Uncle Santa. "

No matter what name a child calls Santa, it's a thrill to write to, and get an answer from the North Pole.


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Author: Marilyn Pokorney
Freelance writer of science, nature, animals and the environment.
Also loves crafts, gardening, and reading.


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