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The Evolution Continues
In the United States, Saint Nicholas has become
associated with Christmas rather than December 6, his traditional feast
day, and he has developed into a purely secular figure. The influence of
the American press gradually replaced the moralizing attributes of Saint
Nicholas with the basically generous character of Santa Claus. In spite
of that, the old habit of threatening unruly children with no gifts from
Santa Claus persists in popular culture. For example, Santa’s treatment
of Henckle the Magician in the animated "Frosty the Snowman" (1969).
The story of Santa Claus continued to evolve. In
1925, since grazing reindeer would not be possible at the North Pole,
newspapers revealed that Santa Claus in fact lived in Finnish Lapland.
"Uncle Markus", Markus Rautio, who compared the popular "Children's
hour" on Finnish public radio, revealed the great secret for the first
time in 1927: Santa Claus lives on Lapland's Korvatunturi - "Ear Fell"
The fell, which is situated directly on Finland's
eastern frontier, somewhat resembles a hare's ears - which are in fact
Santa Claus's ears, with which he listens to hear if the world's
children are being nice. Santa has the assistance of a busy group of
elves, who have quite their own history in Scandinavian legend.
Over the centuries, customs from different parts of
the Northern Hemisphere thus came together and created the whole world's
Santa Claus - the ageless, timeless, deathless white-bearded man who
gives out gifts on Christmas and always returns to Korvatunturi in
Since the 1950s, Santa has happily sojourned at
Napapiiri, near Rovaniemi, at times other than Christmas, to meet
children and the young at heart. By 1985 his visits to Napapiiri had
become so regular that he established his own Santa Claus Office there.
He comes there every day of the year to hear what children want for
Christmas and to talk with children who have arrived from around the
world. Santa Claus Village is also the location of Santa's main Post
Office, which receives children's letters from the four corners of the
The legend of Santa Claus will continue to
grow over time. In the same way that Moore took attributes from Irving,
and embellished them, so other additions have been made. These would
include the addition of the ninth reindeer (Rudolph — by Robert L. May
in 1939), and a wife (invented by Katherine Lee Bates in 1899). It’s
fair to assume that further additions will be made in the future.
Other Places, Other Names
Santa is known throughout the world in many different
names and many associated legends, such as: Saint Nikolaas (Sinter
Klaas) from the Dutch, Father Christmas from the English, Kris Kringle
from the Germans, Befana, from the Italians, Bobouschka from the
Russians (a grand motherly figure instead of a male).
In Austria, December 6 is the day when St. Nicholas and
his grotesque assistant, Krampus, may pay a visit. But the gifts are
brought on Christmas Eve by the Christkindl. Sometimes the
Christkind will even help decorate the Christmas tree before the big
Christmas Eve supper, which will probably feature carp as a main
Père Noël, as Santa Claus is known in France, is a kindly
old gentleman with the well-known white beard and red suit trimmed
with white fur. He travels through the countryside on Christmas Eve
and leaves gifts in the sabots, or traditional wooden shoes, left
out for him by the children. Pere Noel who travels with his stern
disciplinarian companion Pre (or Pere) Fouettard. Pre Fouettard
reminds Pere Noel of just how each child has behaved during the past
year. In some parts of France Pere Noel brings small gifts on St.
Nicholas Eve (December 6) and visits again on Christmas. In other
places it is le petit Jesus who brings the gifts.
In one area of France, Père Noël may have some competition
from Aunt Airie, a fairy who wears a cape, travels with a donkey,
and also gives out gifts
Throughout Scandinavia, there was a widely believed
superstition that there were tiny magical creatures called nisse,
who lived in attics and cellars and brought good luck into a
household. With the growing popularity of Santa Claus and other
holiday gift-bearers, the Scandinavians felt that they needed a
similar figure, so they gave the nisse a red suit and a long white
beard and called him Julenisse. In
Denmark, the jolly bringer of gifts is known as Julemanden and
arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, a sack over his back. He is
assisted with his Yuletide chores by elves called Juul Nisse, who
are said to live in attics. Children leave out saucers of milk or
rice pudding for them and are delighted to find the food gone on
Christmas morning. In Norway, the popularity of Santa Claus
has resurrected an ancient Norse figure called Julesvenn. In ancient
times he would come during the feast of Jul to hide lucky barley
stalks around the house. Now he comes on Christmas Eve to bring
gifts to good children. In Sweden, gifts are brought by the
Jultomen, a gnome who lives in the barn, if there is one.
According to legend, the Italian La Befana was an old
woman from Palestine who refused an offer to go with the Magi to see
the baby Jesus because she had too much housework to do. A few hours
after they left, she changed her mind, but it was too late to catch
up with them. Ever since, La Befana, which means "The Epiphany" in
Italian, wanders throughout Italy on January 5th in search of the
Christ Child. In her travels, she stops at all the houses of the
children and leaves presents for them to make up for not having
joined the Magi on their journey to Bethlehem.
Very similar to the legend of La Befana, the Russian Babushka
was a witch-like old woman who gave the Magi wrong directions on
their trip to Bethlehem. In order to atone for her trick, she was
condemned to roam around Russia on Epiphany Eve, giving presents to
all good children. Babushka was very popular in Russia until the
Communist Revolution, after which she was outlawed due to her
In response to this, the Russians developed another
gift-bearer, Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, who along with his
niece, the Snow Maiden, go from house to house on New Year´s Day,
delivering presents and spreading holiday cheer. With the fall of
the Communist regime, Babushka has returned in a limited role, and
all three characters are now involved in holiday gift-giving.
The population of Japan is less than 1% Christian, but
that hasn't stopped them from adopting many Western Christmas
traditions, including exchanging gifts. The Japanese have even come
up with their own gift-bearer, Hoteiosho. Patterned after Santa
Claus, he is an all-seeing old priest who carries a sack full of
presents from house to house every Christmas Eve.
The most unusual gift-givers may be found in parts of
north-eastern Portugal, however. They are teen-age boys who
participate in a Christmas festival, Festas dos Rapazes, that is
part initiation rite. The boys, wearing masks and multi-colored
costumes, go house-to-house giving gifts. Sometimes they also
perform satirical plays. When the festivities are over, they have
attained their status as men in the community.
Largely English, Father Christmas. Generally a bearded
old man in fur costume who appears in Yuletide and gives presents.
Incorporates many traditions from different European countries and
also newer American customs. The characteristics can be divided
roughly into three groups: Those with traditional religious
significance, those with trad but pagan origin and those needed for
the plot only (logical fill-ins for the continuity of the story).
Today, Father Christmas visits all the houses on Christmas Eve and
fills each child's stocking with presents. He rides a white donkey
or a white goat. Father Christmas is depicted wearing long robes
with sprigs of holly in his long white hair. Letters are sent to him
by children who want to make sure he has got their order right.
These letters are not mailed though; they are thrown into the
fireplace. If they go up the chimney, the wish will be granted; if
not, one's wish goes ungranted. Stockings are hung by the chimney or
at the foot of the child's bed to receive small presents, which are
opened Christmas morning.
In Holland, St. Nicholas comes on the last Saturday of
November by steamer. As he comes into the port of Amsterdam, all
business and traffic stops as the people pour out to greet him. He
disembarks with his servant Black Peter and riding his white horse.
He is dressed in traditional bishop's robes while Black Peter wears
Spanish (Moorish) attire. They are greeted by the mayor and lead a
great parade through the streets to the royal palace. Here all the
royal children are waiting and must give accounts of their behavior
over the past year, just as all Dutch children must do. After the
princes and princesses have proved their worth, the parade continues
to a major hotel, where St. Nicholas will establish his headquarters
for the season. December 5, St. Nicholas' Eve, is when the presents
are exchanged. The presents are called "surprises" because they are
disguised as much as possible to make the final discovery more
delightful. A small gift may be wrapped inside a huge box, or hidden
inside a vegetable, or sunk in a pudding. A large gift may lurk in
the cellar with clues to its location. All surprises must be
accompanied by a bit of verse. On Christmas itself, there are no
Joulupukki is the name of Father Christmas in Finland.
Literally: Yule Buck. Old pagan traditions lived on in Finland and
never faded but got gradually a Christian flavor (elsewhere in
Europe, too). The shortest days of the year are in December and
pagan peoples used to have big festivities to ward of evil spirits.
In Finland these spirits of darkness wore goat skins and horns. In
the beginning this creature didn't give presents but demanded them,
not to cause havoc. The Christmas Goat used to frighten the kids and
was in every way very loathsome.
The popular radio programs from the year 1927 onwards probably had
great influence in formatting the concept with Santa-like costume,
reindeers and Korvatunturi (Mount Ear, near Polar Circle) as its
dwelling place. Because there really are reindeers in Finland, the
popular American cult took root in Finland very fast. Maybe the
Joulupukki is a little bit more fearsome than Santa Claus, though.
Finland is one of the few countries where kids customarily do see
Father Christmas in the act of delivering the presents (a hired
Santa or Grandpa) and one of few where the Saint asks the kids if
they did behave during the year.
Other names and traditions throughout the world:
In Brazil and Peru, he's called Papa Noel.
In Costa Rica, Colombia, and parts of Mexico, the gift bringer
is el Nino Jesus, "the infant Jesus."
In Puerto Rico, children receive gifts from the Three Kings on
January 6th. Each child puts grass under their bed for the camels
and in the morning the grass is replaced with gifts.
In the Netherlands, he is called Kerstman
In Spain the children the night of January 5th put their shoes
under the Christmas tree and have presents from the Three Kings (Los
Reyes Magos: Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar).
Santa Claus is called Papa Noel and there are children who have
presents both days on December 24th (from Papa Noel) and on January
5th (from the Three Kings).
In Japan, he is called Jizo.
Black Peter, St Nick's helper which originates from Morocco or
In China, he is called Shengdan Laoren or Dun Che Lao Ren, which
means "Christmas Old Man."
Barbara Hallman Kissinger in Christmas Past (Pelican Publishing
Company, 2005), has a terrific section on "gift givers" in Europe. It is
Collections of Christmas Carols & Poetry
Compiled and Edited by
Douglas D. Anderson
A Christmas Poetry Collection
A Christmas Poetry Collection
The Bridegroom Cometh
Poetry For The Advent
by Doug Anderson
Lovely Shining Star
A Christmas Poetry Collection
So Gracious Is The Time
A Christmas Poetry Collection
Still The Night
The Christmas Poems of Father Andrew, S.D.C.
Christmas Poems by Frances and William Havergal
Now, Now The Mirth Comes
Christmas Poetry by Robert Herrick
What Sudden Blaze Of Song
The Christmas Poems of Rev. John Keble
A Holy Heavenly Chime
The Christmastide Poems of Christina
Heart This Night Rejoices
The Christmas Poems of Catherine Winkworth
Victorian Carol Book
Favorites from the 19th Century —
Still favorites today!
Other Books by Doug Anderson
A Psalter – A Book of the Psalms Arranged by Luther's Categories
Betbüchlein: A Personal Prayer Book, a
recreation of Luther's 1529 prayer book
Luther's Writings on Prayer: A Selection
Devotions for the Advent – 2009
The Lenten Sermons of Martin Luther, Second Edition
Descriptions of all these volumes can be seen at
Books by Doug
The Hymns and Carols of Christmas
Douglas D. Anderson
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Majorem Dei Gloriam