Whether you call him Santa Claus or St. Nick, the jolly old man who delivers Christmas presents is one of the most famous figures in the world. But how do different countries talk about this iconic Christmas character? 

The legend of Santa Claus has a long and complex history, and many different cultures have their own stories explaining how the Christmas gift-giver came to be. Recent Preply research on the many different names of Santa around the world revealed some very interesting local legends, from the Welsh ‘Chimney John’ (Siôn Corn) to Chile’s ‘Easter Old Man’ (Viejito Pascuero). Keep reading to find out more of Santa’s many, many names!

The father figure 

The most popular characterisation of Santa Claus worldwide is that of an old man in a red coat with a long, white beard who embodies the spirit of Christmas, often earning him the name Father Christmas

Father Christmas is the most traditional name used in English for the character, and many languages and countries around the world have adopted the same moniker to refer to him. In French, this translates to Père Noël, a name that’s used in France and other French-speaking countries such as Cameroon and Morocco.

The Spanish name Papá Noel also directly translates to Father Christmas, and is used in Spain and much of South America (e.g. Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, etc). 

Other translations of ‘Father Christmas’ around the world include:

  • Pai Natal (Portuguese – Portugal)
  • Papai Noel (Portuguese – Brazil)
  • Baba Noel (Arabic – Iraq)
  • Bābā Noel (Persian – Iran)
  • Noel Baba (Turkish)

Grandpa Frost

Another popular name is Grandpa or Grandfather Frost. This name originates from a legendary figure of Slavic mythology and is common in Southeastern Europe, used by countries like Croatia (Đed Mraz), Macedonia and Russia (Дед Мороз – Ded Moroz), Serbia (Деда Мраз – Deda Mraz) and Belarus (Дзед Мароз – Dzied Maroz). 

The character of Ded Moroz is accompanied by his granddaughter Снегурочка (Snegurochka, Russian for “Snow Maiden”), making him the only Santa-like figure to have a female helper!

Other names portraying Santa as a grandfather figure around the world include:

  • Өвлийн өвгөн (Övliin övgön) – ‘Grandfather Winter’. Mongolia
  • თოვლის ბაბუა (tovlis babua) – ‘Grandfather Snow’, Georgia
  • Ձմեռ Պապ (Dzmer Papik) – ‘Winter Grandfather’, Armenia
  • Kalėdų Senelis – ‘Grandfather Christmas’, Lithuania
  • Babagjyshi i Vitit te Ri – ‘Grandfather of the New Year’, Albania

St. Nicholas and Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas was a patron saint who became known for his acts of charity and generous gift-giving habit, and is said to be the influence for the modern day character of Santa Claus. Many European countries use some form of St. Nicholas to talk about Santa, including:

  • Luxembourg – Kleeschen
  • Slovenia – Miklavž 
  • Hungary – Mikulás
  • Switzerland – Samichlaus
  • Austria – St Nikolaus / Nikolo
  • Czech Republic – Svatý Mikuláš
  • Poland – Święty Mikołaj
  • Ukraine – Святий Миколай (Svyatyy Mykolay)

The name ‘Santa Claus’ is derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas, originating in America and becoming popular in the 19th century. Sinterklaas is based on St. Nicholas and has his own holiday on December 5th in The Netherlands and Belgium, Sinterklaasavond (‘Sinterklaas evening’), during which presents are traditionally exchanged.

Now, many countries around the world use Santa Claus – or their own variant of this name – to describe the iconic Christmas figure. English-speaking countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK all commonly use this name, alongside the more traditional Father Christmas. Other countries using Santa Claus include:

  • El Salvador – Santa
  • Cuba – Santa Cló
  • Puerto Rico, Venezuela – Santa Clós
  • Philippines – Santa Klaus
  • Mexico – Santo Clós
  • Thailand – ซานตาคลอส (Sāntākhlxs̄)
  • Japan – サンタクロース (Santakurōsu)
  • South Korea – 산타 할아버지 (Santa hal-abeojilit. ‘grandfather Santa’)

Yule Goats and Pixies: Northern Europe 

Northern European countries have their own Christmas mythology and traditions, originating from the old pagan festival of Yule which was historically celebrated by Germanic people who once occupied Central Europe and Scandinavia. Cognates to Yule are still used in Scandinavian languages, as well as in Finnish and Estonian, to discuss Christmas and its related traditions. 

In Finland, the figure of Santa Claus is called joulupukki. This literally translates to ‘Yule goat’ and is based on old pagan traditions, but nowadays the term is used when discussing the modern day Santa Claus. 

Norway and Sweden also have their own names for Santa based on Nordic folklore. The Norwegian name Julenissen and Swedish name Jultomte literally mean ‘yule pixie’ or ‘yule gnome’, but are again used nowadays to talk about the figure of Santa. 

The names Jõuluvana (used in Estonia) and Julemanden (used in Denmark) roughly mean ‘Old Yule’ and ‘The Yule Man’, which isn’t too different from the English characterisation of Father Christmas. 

Iceland’s thirteen Yule Lads

The majority of countries have only one Santa Claus who brings presents to children at Christmas, but Iceland has thirteen: the Jólasveinar, or ‘Yule Lads’. The Jólasveinar are said to visit children one at a time on the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas Day, leaving a treat for those who are well-behaved.

Each of the Yule Lads has their own specific name and personality, from Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker) to Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper).

Find out more at https://preply.com/en/blog/santa-around-the-world-map/

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