Christmas is approaching and soon, hopefully, all of you will enjoy good food and boisterous family gatherings. The time for presents also draws nigh. But who brings those gifts? The guy in question actually carries a lot of different names around the globe...
Name for St. Nicholas and his Companion
St. Nicholas is a different character from Santa Claus in many countries. However, in the course of history, he has been an inspirational figure for the creation of Santa. His name goes back to the real Saint Nicholas of Myra.
In the Netherlands, he is called "Sinterklaas" ("Saint Claus") is a predecessor of the American Santa Claus. Other names for St. Nicholas are "Samichlaus" in Switzerland, "San Nicola" in Italy and "Kleeschen" ("Small Claus") in Luxembourg. He is also called "De Sint" ("The Holy One") or "De Goedheiligman" ("The good holy man").
In eastern countries, St. Nicholas appears under the name "Mikulás". In Hungary he is called "Szent Miklós" ("Saint Nicholas") , in Romania "Mos Nicolae", in Slovenia "Miklavž", in the Czech Republic and Slovakia "Mikuláš" and in Poland "Mikołaj".
St. Nicholas is often accompanied by a grim assistant, known as "Knecht Ruprecht" ("Minion Ruprecht") in German-speaking countries. In the alps, the companion of St. Nicholas appears in the form of a demon called "Krampus". The name derives either from the Middle High German word for "claw", or from the Bavarian word for "something lifeless, withered". In Tyrol, people even call him "Tuifl" (derived from "devil").
In contrast, in the Netherlands, the companion of St. Nicholas is called "Zwarte Piet" ("Black Peter") and appears as a dark-skinned servant. Zwarte Piet not as creepy as Krampus, and is a popular figure among the Dutch population. However, at present, there is an increasing discussion on whether the figure is to be considered racist.
Santa Claus, Father Christmas, and Father Frost
In many countries, the bringer of gifts at Christmas is a stereotypical old wise man with a long white beard and a red cloak. The most famous version of his name is of course "Santa Claus" which is distributed worldwide by the U.S. media. It is derived from the Dutch "Sinterklaas" and was brought to the US by Dutch people.
In northern Germany, the bearded old man is called "Weihnachtsmann" ("Christmas Man"), in France "Père Noël", in the UK "Father Christmas", in Portugal "Pai Natal", and in Brazil "Papai Noel" (each meaning "Father Christmas"). In Italy, "Babbo Natale" is becoming more common in recent years, replacing the traditional gifts donors.
Santa Claus carries even more names in various parts of the world: "Jõuluvana" in Estonia, "Joulupukki" ("Christmas goat") in Finland, "Pascuero Viejo" ("Old Shepherd") in Chile. Even South Korea has a distinctive name for the old man: "Santa Haraboji" ("Grandfather Santa"). In Japanese, the name "Santa Claus" has been adapted to "Santakukoru" to meet Japanese syllable structure requirements.
In Russia, his name is season-related, and his coat is blue instead of red: "Ded Moroz" ("Grandfather Frost") and his granddaughter "Snegurochka" ("Snow Maiden") bring the gifts to Russian children. In Lithuanian, he is called "Senis Saltis", in Estonian his name is "Näärivana".
English-speaking countries also know names for an anthropomorphized winter: "Jack Frost" or "Old Man Winter". He is regarded as a friendly but dangerous spirit who probably originated from the Germanic god Odin/Wotan. Odin's many names include, after all, "Jólnir" ("Yule-man") and "Langbarðr" ("Longbeard"), which also had an influence on today's illustration of Santa Claus.
Christ Child / Baby Jesus
Christmas is primarily a Christian festival (although this is occasionally forgotten in the media frenzy nowadays), and therefore it is not surprising that in many areas, it is not semi-secular Santa Claus, but baby Jesus who brings the gifts.
In many Eastern European countries, the Christ Child is more widespread than the old man with the beard: "Ježíšek" ("Child Jesus") it is called in the Czech Republic; in Slovakia "Ježiško", in Hungary "Jézuska". During communism, the government tried to replace the baby Jesus with a Santa-like figure named "Télapó," which was inspired by the Russian Ded Moroz.
But also in many western countries, Jesus himself brings the gifts: In Southern Germany, he is called "Christkind" ("Christ Child"), in Portugal "Menino Jesus", and in Colombia "El Niño Jesus" or "Niño Dios".
Scandinavian Christmas Gnomes and Their Names
In many Scandinavian countries, the role of Santa Claus is not filled by a bearded grandfather figure, but rather by the gnomes, elves or dwarves who were degraded to being his helpers in American folklore.
In Iceland, thirteen dwarves bring the Christmas presents. Their names are: Stekkjastaur ("Sheep-Cote Clod"), Giljagaur ("Gully Gawk"), Stúfur ("Stubby"), Þvörusleikir ("Spoon-Licker"), Pottaskefill ("Pot-Scraper") , Askasleikir ("Bowl-Licker"), Hurðaskellir ("Door-Slammer"), Skyrgámur ("Skyr-Gobbler"), Bjúgnakrækir ("Sausage-Swiper"), Gluggagægir ("Window-Peeper"), Gáttaþefur ("Doorway-Sniffer"), Ketkrókur ("Meat-Hook"), Kertasníkir ("Candle-Stealer").
In Denmark, the Christmas gnomes are called "Julenisser", in Sweden "Tomte" and Finland "Tonntu".
Names for Other Bringers of Gifts
St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, the Christ Child, and Christmas gnomes - the list of the gift bringers at Christmas is still not complete. Many countries have their own main characters at Christmas, though they are often gradually being replaced by the omnipresent Santa Claus.
In some parts of Italy, it is not Santa Claus or Father Christmas who brings the presents, but an old widow named "Befana". The name is derived from "Epiphany", the Christian feast day on 6 January. In Spain, the "Reyes Magos" (the Magi) bring the gifts themselves.
In the Basque Country, a charcoal burner called "Olentzero" brings the gifts. His name means "time of the good ones".
We see that the names of the gift bringers at Christmas are as varied as the cultural traditions of each country. So, as an overview, have a look at this map which tells you who brings presents to Europe:
- Krampus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Krampus_at_Perchtenlauf_Klagenfurt.jpg by http://www.flickr.com/people/15501382 @ N00
- Santa Claus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:20121123_SantaClaus-Chicago.JPG by http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:DR04
- Christ Child: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Christkind.jpg by http://als.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benutzer:Albärt
- Christmas Gnomes : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Yule_lads_in_Dimmuborgir.JPG by lusinemarg
- Olentzero: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Olentzero_Hendaia_2006.JPG by http://eu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lankide:Josugoni