In America, we have Santa Claus. He’s big and rosy-cheeked, all decked out in red and white, and has famous facial hair. We leave him some cookies and milk to munch on before he climbs back up the chimney to his reindeer. But Santa Claus is the combined effort of many old traditions and folklore. There’s a little bit of the Dutch figure of Sinterklass, a dash of Norse mythology’s Odin, and British folklore’s Father Christmas. Here’s a look at other winter holiday figures and traditions from around the world!
Italy’s Befana the Witch
On January 5, children all over Italy are visited by Befana, a gift-bearing old lady who arrives on a broomstick wearing a sooty black cloak, and comes into your home through the chimney. Befana puts gifts and candy in the stockings of good children, but leaves a lump of coal or a stick for the bad ones. Though she looks like a witch, Befana is a very polite houseguest. She always sweeps the floor before she leaves, to clear away all the problems of the past year.
Norway’s seven sugary treats
During the holiday season, families in Norway will be busy making and eating seven different kinds of holiday biscuits. These traditional sweets include Smultringer (donut rings), Gingerbread, Sirupssnipper (syrup snaps), Berlinerkranser (berlin wreaths), Goro, Krumkaker (curved cake), and Fattigmann (poor man). With this age-old tradition, families come together to create new holiday memories as they bake old holiday favorites—and eat the results!
Sweden’s Sankta Lucia
In Sweden, the Christmas festivities begin on December 13 with St. Lucia’s Day, celebrating the patron saint of light. On this day, the oldest daughter in the family wakes up before dawn and dresses up as the “Queen of Light,” putting on a long white dress and a crown of leaves. She then goes to every bedroom in the house, singing the traditional “Sankta Lucia” song and serving coffee and treats to the members of her family. Later in the month, just a day or two before Christmas, the whole family helps to pick out a Christmas tree.
Germany’s Der Nikolaus
December 6th is St. Nicholas Day in Germany, the day all the children wake up to find the candies and chocolates that “der Nikolaus” left in their boots the night before. In some parts of Germany, a big horned monster called “Knecht Ruprecht” or “Krampus” accompanies St. Nicholas. This scary figure punishes the children who were bad, and gives them a birch brance as a present. In other parts of the country, St. Nicholas is followed by a little character called “Schwarz Peter” (Black Peter), who carries a small whip. And in northwest Germany, St. Nicholas is joined by Belsnickel, a man dress all in fur.
If you know more holiday traditions or folklore, please share your comments below!