Names for Santa around the world
So who exactly do we mean by ‘Santa’ or ‘St. Nicholas’? It turns out that there are many names for Santa around the world, along with a whole group of other holiday gift-givers.
Given his seeming ubiquity during the holiday season, from cameos in Black Friday advertisements to appearances in pop songs, it can feel as though Santa is a universal figure. However, the culture of Christmas-time gift giving turns out to be far more complicated. Rather than a single, unifying Santa Claus/St. Nicholas figure around the world, what we actually have is a rich melange of figures, ranging from Дед Мороз (‘Ded Moroz,’ or ‘Grandfather Frost’) in Russia to Italy’s Befana, an old woman who delivers gifts to children on Epiphany Eve (5 January), to Iceland’s thirteen jólasveinar, or ‘Yule Lads’, two of whom appear below. It’s more complicated than just ‘Santa.’
So depending on what country, language, and culture we are talking about, the gift-giving figure in Christian tradition varies in name, appearance, and myth. In many countries, the ‘Santa’ figure present today is actually a mix of different figures. For instance, the Santa Claus many are familiar with today – red cap, reindeer, big white beard – is actually derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas). That version of Santa Claus/St. Nicholas has, in turn, been conflated with figures such as Father Christmas, the traditional British figure of Christmas.
With the above map, you can explore different names for Santa and other Christmas gift givers across the world. Not all of them refer to Santa or St. Nicholas, and several countries celebrate multiple occurrences of gift-giving figures during the holiday season, so the map is not exhaustive.
Photo via Wikimedia / lusinemarg, by CC 2.0