Santa: The Man of Many Names

The big, red-suited guy who comes down your chimney bearing gifts has been a legend for hundreds of years. Believed to have been derived from St. Nicohlas born in A.D. 280 in modern day Turkey, St. Nick was generous and selfless with his goods, often giving it away as he traveled.  

Father Christmas at Union Station, Washington, D.C. Carol Highsmith, photographer. LC-HS503- 2326

Father Christmas at Union Station, Washington, D.C. Carol Highsmith, photographer. LC-HS503- 2326

As time progressed, St. Nick became known by his current name Santa Claus, which evolved from Sinter Klaas, St. Nick’s Dutch name. Many children around the world hope that he visits them with all sorts of goodies. But did you know that Santa has many different names and legends around the world?  

An iteration of Santa that many might be familiar with is Father Christmas. Found in much of English history – that is, the United Kingdom – Father Christmas was once separate from Santa and known for adult feasting and drinking. Before becoming merged with the idea of how we think of Santa today, Father Christmas was more of a bringer of gifts, as opposed to being a giver. In this sense, he was used a third party opportunity for men to give gifts to women or he would be like a traveling salesman, selling various gifts to then use the money for his own happiness and cheer. It wasn’t until the 1870s that Father Christmas and Santa Claus began to be seen as one figure. 

In South Korea, Santa is known as Santa Haraboji or Santa Kullusu which means Grandpa Santa. This Santa is usually clothed in green robes as opposed to the traditional red. He also wears a different style hat, known as a “gat,” which is a flat-topped, tall hat usually worn by nobles during the 13th century. Instead of going down chimneys and leaving gifts for individual families, Grandpa Santa is usually seen giving gifts at public events.

Heading over to the African continent, we find the Time of the Dancing Devils in Liberia. While this might not sound very Christmas-y, these dancing devils “carry the spirit of the community.” The dancing devils, who are common alongside Old Man Bayka, is considered to be the opposite of Santa Claus. These beings come from the world of Poro, the bush. Asking for presents rather than giving them away, Old Man Beggar, as he is also known, wears old clothes and covers his face with a mask.  

There are many other types of “Santa” out there, where he is known by different names, but for the most part he does much of the same as the traditional Santa we know and adore. If you’re ever traveling during the holiday season, here are some of the names you can be on the lookout for: 

  • Père Noël – France 
  • Ded Moroz and Snegurochka – Russia 
  • Sinterklaas – The Netherlands 
  • La Befana – Italy 
  • Julbock – Sweden 
  • Hotei – Japan 
  • Der Weihnachtsmann – Germany 
  • Noel Baba – Turkey 
  • Święty Mikołaj – Poland 

Cover Image: Santa Claus, 1985, LC-USZ62-113695

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Stephanie Webster

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