Language and culture affect most aspects of life – even what you may call Santa. This holiday season, learn about the different names for Santa Claus around the world.
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It’s that time of year again. People everywhere are joyfully beginning their preparations for Santa Claus, Weihnachtsmann or Father Christmas – a few of the many different names for Santa Claus around the world. Whatever you call him, preparations for the “jolly good fellow” can include anything from deciding what kind of cookies to leave out for him, to leaving boots next to the fireplace filled with hay. The variety of customs show yet another glimpse into localization.
Today, we thought we would dig a little deeper into these localized versions of the Christmas spirit. In particular, the holiday’s jolly front man himself. You guessed it, Santa Claus. Grab a cup of hot cocoa, kick off your boots and ask yourself, “What are the different names for Santa Claus around the world?”
Different names for Santa Claus around the world
Christmas in the U.S.
In the U.S., Santa, Kris Kringle or Saint Nick – whichever version of Santa Claus you choose to adopt – all address the same man. Over the years he has evolved from the customs of immigrants and the influences of commercialism to the man he is today. Adorned in his traditional red suit, Santa sneaks around the night before Christmas in his sleigh pulled by reindeer (one of which is rumored to have a bright and shiny, red nose) leaving gifts under a tree.
The children’s anticipation for Santa is occupied by writing letters, which are sent to The North Pole and decorating cookies and gingerbread houses. To seal the long month of waiting, on Christmas Eve they most commonly leave him a glass of milk and frosted sugar cookies, accompanied by carrots for his reindeer. The children wake up on Christmas Day to find his treats traded for presents.
Christmas in Germany
“Weihnachtsmann,” or “Father Christmas,” the German version of our jolly fellow, is very similar in likeness to the U.S. version of Santa Claus. Father Christmas is also known as Nickel, Klaus or Niglo. He comes on Christmas Eve bearing presents for the good girls and boys.
Germany also celebrates “Niklolaustag,” or “St. Nicholas Day” on December 6. St. Nicholas (who resembles a bishop and carries a staff) comes in the midst of the night of December 5, and puts small gifts and sweets into the shoes of the well-behaved children. He is also said to arrive with an eerie companion known as “Krampus” who is a dark horned character carrying chains. He is meant to frighten and punish the children who misbehave. Also, similar to American custom, the children may leave a wish list for St. Nicholas to pass on to the Weihnachtsmann for Christmas.
Christmas in Norway
Norway’s version of Santa Claus is known as “Julenissen,” and can be found in the usual attire, giving presents to all the nice children on Christmas Eve. He is much more visible than the “sneaky Santa” however, since he delivers his presents in person and asks, “Are there any good children here?”
Julenissen originates from a Scandinavian folklore about the “Nisse.” A Nisse is a short, plump creature with a long white beard and red hat (sounds like he could look like Santa, too!). It is has long been believed (more prominent in the 1800s) every home has their own Nisse who helps with daily chores and in return, all he wants is respect from the family and a bowl of “julegrøt,” or “Christmas porridge” with extra butter left out on Christmas Eve. Some families still leave out a bowl of porridge on Christmas Eve.
In the 1840’s, the Nisse’s favors for the family increased to bringing presents for them on Christmas Eve. The name Nisse then transformed into the name to “Julenisse” (Jul translating to Christmas) and has been the bearer of gifts for Christmas in Norway ever since.
Christmas in England
In England, he is referred to as Father Christmas. He comes on Christmas Eve delivering gifts; filling socks, pillowcases or stocking hung by the chimney (or in the child’s room) with care. Similar to the Americanized version of Santa Claus, Father Christmas arrives in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and enters through the chimney. Once he is through their chimney, he can enjoy a snack of mince pies and brandy that the children in England commonly leave out for him.
In preparation to his arrival, children will write a letter listing the presents they want. Instead of mailing these letters to The North Pole, they toss them into the fireplace and the fire carries the letters up the chimney. It is believed once he lands up on the housetop, Father Christmas can read the smoke.
Christmas in China
Christmas is being celebrated more and more by young people in the larger cities of China like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. “Dun Che Lao Ren” visits those who celebrate Christmas in China. Translating as “Christmas Old Man,” he visits during the Holy Birth festival and fills the children’s stockings with the gifts and treats he carries in a wicker basket.
A tradition that is increasing in popularity in China is giving apples as gifts. While it may sound strange at first, it is the easiest thing to buy if you walk into a Chinese shop on Christmas Eve. These apples are decorated with colorful paper, ribbons and even messages engraved on the skin. So, where does this tradition come from?
Christmas Eve translates to “ping’an ye,” meaning “a safe and peaceful night.” The word for apple sounds very similar translating to “píngguŏ.” This means it’s “the fruit of being safe” and the reason why it makes perfect sense to give apples as Christmas presents.
Christmas in France
On Christmas Eve, the children in France prepare for “Père Noël” and his donkey, Mistletoe, by leaving out their shoes filled with carrots and hay. When he arrives later in the night, he gives the left out goodies to his pet and fills the boys’ and girls’ shoes with candies and presents.
In Eastern France, a rather sinister being clothed in black, “Le Pere Fouettard,” which translates to “Father Whipper,” joins Père Noël. He brings a whip with him while visiting the homes of all boys and girls to whip those who have misbehaved.
A localized version of Santa can appear in all languages
Whichever Christmas fellow you prefer to follow, his essence includes a cheerful presence, the gift of giving and some impressive cookie eating abilities. But what do we enjoy most about Santa, you ask? Well, his ability to appear in all languages, of course! So, if you ever run into Santa Claus, Dun Che Lao Ren or Père Noël (just to name a few!) be sure you know how to tell him Happy Holidays.
Although it has been said many times, many ways, in many languages – Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays) to all and to all a good night!
Interested in learning more about how different cultures celebrate Santa Claus around the world? Click here!
About the author
Karalee Dunham is a Marketing Coordinator at Amplexor International and is based in River Falls, Wisconsin. She specializes in content creation and has been part of the Global Content & Language Solutions team since 2017.