Santa Traditions Around the World


We’re all familiar with the American version of Santa Claus – a fat, jolly old man in a red suit, who delivers presents to good children and coal to naughty children all around the world in one night. Realistically, Santa can’t get around the world in one night, even with the help of Rudolph and the gang. Luckily, Santa comes in many different forms, and from many different cultures. Here’s a look at a few …


Hoteiosha is a Buddhist monk with eyes in the back of his head. Japanese families typically spend Christmas Day doing charity work, and people don’t receive their gifts until New Year’s Eve.

The Netherlands

Sinterklaas looks more like the pope than Santa! And, he has three weeks rather than one night to distribute all the Christmas gifts. He flies over houses on a white horse while dropping gifts down the chimneys. Meanwhile, some of his cronies snatch up the naughty children. Yikes!


Le Bafana is a friendly holiday witch who flies around on her broomstick leaving candies, figs, and other goodies in good children’s socks, and coal (or dark candy) in naughty children’s socks. Akin to Santa’s cookie addiction, she’s a bit of a wino … but, of course, she is in Italia!


Jultomte is a small, old, bearded mythical creature that wears a red cap, and somewhat resembles a garden gnome.


The Yulemen are a group of 13 mischievous creatures that are known for their playful nature. In addition to their pranks, they leave small gifts in the shoes of the well-behaved children for 13 nights leading up to Christmas Eve. What do naughty kids get? Potatoes.


Ded Moroz, also known as “Grandfather Frost,” dresses similarly to Santa Claus, and carries a magical staff. He travels around with his granddaughter, Sengurochka (“Snow Maiden”) on white horses, personally delivering gifts to children at holiday parties and celebrations.

Puerto Rico

The Three Kings, also known as the Three Wise Men, are celebrated on January 6 – Three Kings Day – when children fill up boxes of grass for the men’s camels to eat. As a thank you, the Wise Men refill the boxes with presents and sweets.

El Niño Dios, or Baby Jesus, brings smaller gifts to children along with Santa Claus. Focusing on Christ’s birth, people reenact the story when Joseph and Mary were searching for shelter – La Posada (“inn” or “lodging”).

Germany & Austria

Belsnickel accompanies Santa Claus on his rounds and is depicted as a mountain man-style figure draped in furs. Unlike Santa’s jovial nature, Belsnickel is generally a figure to be feared, to influence children to behave. In some regions, he is known to give small gifts on December 6 – the feast day of St. Nicholas.


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