In the United States, he is known as Santa Claus. He is the Jolly old elf who traverses down chimneys to bring all the little boys and girls of the world gifts and good cheer. He is legendary, immortalized in song and book and seen in shopping malls everywhere. Naturally, Santa Claus is known world wide, often under aliases and similar but not exact costuming. His job, however remains the same.
Most of us know he sometimes goes by Kris Kringle. This name originated in Southern Germany. Literally translated it means Christ Child. German children also refer to him as Weihnachtsmann, meaning Christmas Man.
The French of course have Pere Noel, which isn’t that far from Spain’s Papa Noel. Spanish speaking countries and French speaking countries all refer to the sweet jolly old elf as Father Christmas when translated.
Sinterklaas comes from the Dutch, and it is speculated that by slightly mispronouncing this name, the American “Santa Claus” came to be. This of course is just speculation, but it certainly makes sense.
Countries such as Croatia consider Santa Claus to be more of a grandfatherly figure than a father figure, and thus have given him the name of Grandfather Christmas. Bulgaria sort of “borrowed” their version of Santa from the Russians, called him Grandfather Christmas and dressed him nearly identically.
Some countries have various versions of Santa Claus that aren’t readily related to Christmas celebrations. Often celebrating the 6th of December or thereabouts, the Santa Claus as Americans know him is actually more of a Christ figure, with literal translations meaning Christ Child or Little Jesus. These entities have the same effect as the American known Santa Claus, often bringing treats or gifts.
Finland and Scandinavian countries are more partial to the “Yule Goat.” The Yule Goat rides from house to house delivering all kinds of cherished gifts while in turn hoping for a nibble of porridge to keep him warm and energized for his very busy night.
Of course, each individual entity is still modeled after Saint Nicholas, who spent his life and his inheritance giving to those who needed, and did so as anonymously as possible. Asian countries, outlying islands, even most Middle Eastern countries have some version of Santa Claus. While he may not be quite the same figure as Americans recognize, sometimes delivering gifts as early as December 5th, the notion is all the same. Jolly Old Saint Nick is quite alive and doing very well in the spirits of people throughout the world.
Lichtenstein and Austria refer to the Santa figure as ChristKind. ChristKind is a moderate blend of a religious entity and the more traditional understanding of Santa Claus. Italy has the entire family involved. Most recognize Babbo Natale as being Father Christmas, but the gifts are delivered by a woman who rides a broom instead of a sleigh, although she is not considered a witch. She is called La Befana and she fills the traditional Western impression of Santa Claus from upon her broomstick.
The only country that doesn’t recognize Santa Claus in one fashion or another is of course Israel, where most of the population is primarily Jewish and there is no Santa Claus that related to Jewish tradition.
Traditions, dates, and even the core of Santa Claus’ origination vary from country to country. Some people celebrate him as a gift giver while others celebrate him as a historical religious figure. The universal nature of Santa Claus is evidence that Santa Claus is much more than a figurehead to encourage and facilitate holiday spending. In a time when people are sensitive to the over-commercialization of Christmas, the fact that he is recognized and celebrated world wide points out that commercialization is a personal choice.
As Santa Claus takes various forms, the nature of his purpose remains the same. His mission in this world is to deliver gifts, spread holiday joy and cheer, and of course, encourage the imagination of children everywhere.