The Other Santa Claus: Gift Giving Figures

posted on 11/29/13

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Santa Claus has been THE gift giving figure for the Winter Holiday Season of the Western longer than anyone living can remember. American cartoonist Thomas Nast gave the public the modern image of the large jolly bearded patron of gifting, but around the world, and even in countries as familiar as Italy, Greece and Russia, the winter gift bearing figure can be quite different from our Kris Kringle.



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Basil of Caesarea

Unlike other the traditional Christmas holiday of Santa Claus visiting to deliver presents on 24th In Greece, children await a visit from St. Basil on his holiday on January 1st known as St. Basil’s Day. A extra chair is left empty at the dinner table for St. Basil and a bread with coins baked inside (known as vasilopita) are given to children. His origins are primary religious being a saint, and he is well known to have been born into a wealthy family and so earned his reputation for being a generous giver of gifts.



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Ded Moroz

Very similar to Santa Claus, in Russia, Ukraine and other Slavic countries, Ded Moroz, also know as Father Frost or Old Man Frost plays the role of the gift bearer. He is very similar to Santa in dress and role, but there are differences, one being Ded Moroz is usually depicted giving his gifts openly, unlike the ninja-like Santa, and another major difference is the depiction of Ded Moroz’s helper, his granddaughter and helper, the snow maiden Snegurochka.



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Sinterklaas

One of the origins of Santa Claus is the figure known as Sinterklaas, the gift bearer of North Western European countries including Belgium, the Netherlands and beyond. Known as Saint Nicolas, his traditional gift giving day is December 5th, and his appearance tends to be more religious than his American counterpart. Sinterklaas has many pre-Christian features to his activity, similar to the norse god Odin, they both ride flying horses, Sinterklaas gives children chocolate letters, Odin gave the norse their language, the runes, but one of the bizarre features of the Sinterklaas persona are his helpers, Zwarte Pieten (or Black Petes), a group of 9-10 men usually depicted in blackface makeup and Moorish dress, they are usually depicted as frolicking and mischievous.



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Babbo Natale and La Befana

Perhaps the most similar to the American Santa Claus on this list, Babbo Natale dresses the same (although slightly thinner) and fulfills nearly the exact same role as American Santa with no little to no difference, however there is another gift giving figure who is more celebrated is La Befana, or The Christmas Witch, a traditional hag witch archetype who seems to be moonlighting from Halloween.



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Christkind

Originally promoted by famous protestant Martin Luther as an alternative to Sinterklaas and celebrated all over the world including western and northern Europe, and Brazil , the Christkind is German for “Christ Child” and is also known as “Little Jesus” or “Jesus Boy” . Usually depicted as young boy with blonde hair and angelic wings, Martin intended the figure to be a reincarnation of Baby Jesus but the figure is often depicted as a traditional angel and it’s usage as gift bearer seems to be specifically designed to neutralize the paganism and decadence Father Christmas seem to represent to Martin Luther.

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