Santa Around the World

HANNAH ROBINSON

Who doesn’t love scrolling through their Instagram feed on Thursday mornings, getting a weekly dose of the most popular hashtag game ever, the alliterative ditty otherwise known as #ThrowbackThursday (#TBT)?

What makes the #ThrowbackThursday trend so popular, anyway? Is it the sentiment-induced feelings of social connectedness we create in our ever-advancing digital world? Is it the wistful, old-fashioned sense of nostalgia that leaves us reminiscing about the good ol’ days (because, yes, even though we may be teenagers, we have our very own version of the good ol’ days)? Maybe it’s seeing the curious balance our friends find between humor and self-deprecation when posting their most socially awkward moments for the whole world to see. Maybe it’s a combination of all three?

Where did #ThrowbackThursday originate? Well, according to some super sleuth research on the interwebs, the phrase “Throwback Thursday” dates back to the blogging era, when, in January 2006, artist and illustrator Saxton Moore (http://sacks10.blogspot.com) titled a blog article “Throwback Thursday” when re-hashing a series of retro cartoon characters.  

When most Americans in the United States think about Christmas, they think of Santa Claus;. the big, jolly man dressed in red who rides on a sleigh with reindeer and brings you presents on Christmas morning. Although that is one depiction of what Christmas may be, the truth is that there are endless other traditions from different cultures around the world.

 

Father Christmas (United Kingdom)

Unlike our red-suited Mr. Claus, Father Christmas dresses in a hooded green cloak, usually accompanied by a staff and a wreath of holly or ivy. Though now influenced by the American Santa Claus, Father Christmas was traditionally associated with feasting and merriment, not with children and gift giving. Father Christmas originated from pagan traditions and represented the coming of spring. His most common representation in American culture is that of The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

 

Papa Noёl (France)

Papa Noёl is closely related to North America’s Santa Claus. Rather than reindeer and a sleigh, he rides a donkey named Gui(which translates to mistletoe), and leaves presents for children in their slippers and shoes, which are left by the fire,  instead of in stockings.

 

La Befana (Italy)

La Befana serves a similar purpose in Italy as Santa Claus does to children in the US. She visits the houses of children on Epiphany Eve, which is the night of January 5th. Most often, she is portrayed as a hag riding a broomstick. La Befana is depicted as being dressed in a black shawl and covered with soot from coming and going through chimneys. She leaves candy in stockings, and coal or sticks if the children have been bad. Instead of leaving milk and cookies, parents often leave La Befana a glass of wine (which may or may not send mixed signals about drinking and driving… or broomstick riding). She is a good housekeeper, and will sweep the house on her way out, clearing away all the years problems.

 

Tomte (Sweden)

Tomte is a Swedish tradition, known in Norway and Finland as Nisse, and commonly known in North America as the Tomten. The tomte appears most similarly to a garden gnome, standing no more than 90 cm and wearing a red pointed knit cap and a long white beard. Originally from Nordic folklore, the Tomte is associated with the winter solstice. Though he doesn’t bring gifts or coal, his presence brings good fortune to a farmer and their family because it means their animals were in good health. A tradition adopted in the US involves hiding a Tomten doll around your house during the Christmas season.

 

Krampus (Central Europe)

Commonly known as the ‘Christmas Devil,’ Krampus is a terrifying half-goat, half-demon anthropomorphic creature who instead of rewarding well behaved children, punishes those who have misbehaved. Krampus comes the night of December 5th, beating evil children with sticks and dragging them to his lair. Maybe a lump of coal isn’t so bad after all…  Despite his demonic ways, he is allegedly quiet close with our own dear Santa Claus. He has been the star of many films including the most recent 2015 blockbuster horror titled Krampus.

 

Ded Moroz (Russia)

Ded Moroz, which means Grandfather Frost (or Old Man Frost), is the Santa Claus of Russia. He wears a long fur robe, which is traditionally blue, and is accompanied by his granddaughter, Snegurochka the Snow Maiden. On New Years Eve he travels the Slavic region and gives gifts to children. Though this representation has softened over the years, in the more traditional Slavic mythology Ded Moroz would kidnap and punish naughty children.

 

This is only a mere glimpse of the endless list of traditions and Christmas figures. As you start to see ads on TV or images plastered on soda cans that depict a rotund old man in a fluffy red suit, let it remind you that we are part of a much larger global community with many different ways of seeing the world.

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