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How does Father Christmas differ around the world?

Here in the UK, we are all familiar with the rotund and jolly Father Christmas, otherwise known as Santa Claus. For weeks ahead of Christmas, children are warned about ending up on the naughty or nice list of the legendary gift-giver. Ask any child to draw him and undoubtedly the picture will feature a red suit, black boots, white beard and a big sack of presents. There will quite possibly be a few reindeer, a helpful elf and a flying sleigh, as well.

However, take a trip around the globe, and you will quickly find that while the concept of Father Christmas exists in many countries, he takes many different forms, and in some places, he is not quite the laughing, grandfatherly figure we all know and love.

Netherlands

In the Netherlands, Father Christmas is based on the real-life Saint Nicholas of the 4th century. Sinterklaas, a white-bearded man wearing a long, red garment, visits the homes of well-behaved children on Christmas Eve and leaves them gifts. However, this Christmas figure doesn’t have flying reindeer, but instead rides a white horse called Amerigo.

Italy

In Italy, their Father Christmas equivalent appears a little more like a Halloween character. The country observes Epiphany Eve on January 5th, and on that night, Befana, an old woman with a black shawl, flies on a broomstick delivering presents to the nice children and coal or soot to the naughty. Just like our Father Christmas, she travels from house to house and comes down the chimney.

Iceland

Iceland has the folklore of the Yule Lads. These interesting characters started out as the opposite of nice. Originally depicted as two troll-type creatures who would descend from the mountains and eat naughty children, they have been given a much more loving make-over since the 18th and 19th centuries. There are now 13 Yule Lads, who are more like fun pranksters. They visit children in the 13 nights before Christmas, leaving them gifts or disgusting items depending on their behaviour.

Russia and Ukraine

Loosely translated to “Old Man Frost” or “Grandfather Frost”, Ded Moroz is the Father Christmas of Russia and Ukraine. He appears on New Year’s Eve with gifts for children, accompanied by his granddaughter. Much like our Father Christmas, he has a white beard and a long fur coat, although he tends to use the front door to enter homes, rather than risk getting stuck in any chimneys.

Germany

In Germany, Saint Nicholas has a sidekick, and it’s not a helpful elf. Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon creature who deals with the naughty children, while Saint Nicholas gifts presents to those on the nice list.

As we’ve seen, the various versions of Father Christmas tend to share the trait of rewarding the good and the kind. While we don’t have to worry about the Yule Lads or Krampus here in the UK, children might be tempted to leave an extra mince pie out this year, just in case.

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