Santa Claus is an important symbol of Christmas to children around the world, as a bringer of gifts. Through the years, Santa Claus has been successful in engaging a young child's sense of wonder.
The origin of the Santa Claus legend is Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna in what is now Turkey. He lived in the 4th century A.D. He was very rich, generous and
loving towards children.
He often gave joy to poor
children by throwing gifts in through their windows.
Today, Santa Claus is seen as a merry old man with red and white clothes, along with eight flying
reindeer, later joined by Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer. The home of Santa Claus is located on or near the North Pole and he is in the habit of filling socks or stockings with presents on the night of December 24. He is said to enter houses through the chimneys.
Although the essence of Santa Claus is the same in all countries,
according to the culture and traditions of each country.
The American version of
St. Nicholas or Santa Claus originally came from the Dutch version called Sinter Klaas. The Dutch settlers in New York brought this tradition to America. He was gradually transformed from an austere bishop to a jolly old elf. The jolly, ruddy, sack-carrying Santa with a red suit and flowing white beard has become the standard image of Santa in America.
In Germany, many
children put a boot, called Nikolaus-Stiefel, outside their front doors on the nights of December 5 - 6.
St. Nicholas fills the boot with gifts, and at the same time checks up on the
children to see if they were good.
Swedish children wait eagerly for Jultomten, a gnome whose sleigh is drawn by the Julbocker, the goats of Thor, the god of thunder. He dresses in red and carries a bulging sack on his back.
In Denmark the gift bringer, Julemanden, also carries a sack and is drawn by reindeer. Elves called Juul Nisse are said to come from the attic, to help Julemanden.
Children put a saucer of milk or rice pudding out for them in the attic.
In the Netherlands, Sinter Klaas brings
presents to every child that has been good in the past year. Sinter Klaas wears a red bishop's dress including a red mitre, rides a white horse over the rooftops of houses and is assisted by many helpers with soot-black faces and colourful Moorish dresses.
In Syria, children's gifts come from the youngest camel on January 6th, which is Three Kings' Day.
In Spanish speaking
countries such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines and Spain, the Three Kings themselves give the gifts to the children.
In Russia the same
ageless wanderer is called Baboushka. She gave the wise men the wrong
directions and on the eve of Three Kings Day she
wanders from house to house, peering into the faces of
children and leaving gifts. Russia also has Grandfather Frost.
English children wait for Father Christmas, known to their ancestors as Christmas itself.
In France, gifts are also brought by Father Christmas, Pere Noel, or the Christ Child himself.
In Austria and Switzerland the Christkindl bears gifts. In some towns Christkindl is a
beautiful girl-angel sent down from
heaven to give gifts.