Most children in the UK will be hoping Father Christmas pays them a visit on the night of December 24th, but not all children around the world will be looking to the sky to see a red-robed old man on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Here's who brings the Christmas presents to other youngsters around the world…
When it comes to Christmas presents, German children don’t have to wait till Christmas Day to open theirs. Instead, St Nicholas travels round the country on the night of December 5th, putting sweets and oranges and nuts in the shoes left at the door by the children. However, he doesn’t come alone! Depending on which area of Germany you live in, you could also be visited by Krampus – a big-horned monster dressed in rags, who carries a birch and punishes the children who’ve been bad. Alternatively, a small, equally scary person called Schwarzer Peter (or Black Peter) may be tagging along, carrying a small whip, again as a deterrent against bad behaviour. In the northwest of the country, St Nicholas’ companion may also be a fur-clad man called Belsnickel.
Even into the New Year, you may still have presents to look forward to if you’re a child in Mexico. If you’re lucky, you may find you receive some sweets from The Three Kings on January 6th!
Dutch children also await Christmas presents from the bishop St Nicholas (or Sinterklass) on the night of 5th December, and he will be riding a white horse, having sailed in on a steamboat from Spain, where he lives. Black Peter again accompanies him, but this time, he carries a black sack and a book, where he has recorded the year’s behaviour of each child. While good children receive a gift from Sinterklass, bad children may well be bundled into Black Peter’s sack and carried away.
He dresses in red and has a sack of Christmas presents, but Jultomten, who visits Swedish children, is a gnome and he flies through the air in a sleigh pulled by the god Thor’s goats. All year long, elves – the Juul Nisse – wait in hiding in Swedish attics in order to help him make his deliveries on Christmas Eve. It’s to please these elves that Swedish children leave bowls of milk or rice pudding in the attic in the evening.
The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on 7th January, and, in post-revolutionary Russia, New Year’s Eve was the date desgnated for the annual celebration. So now for Russian children, it’s Grandfather Frost who brings sweets on the night of 31st December. His granddaughter, the snow maiden, accompanies him. By custom, the children make a circle around the Christmas tree and call for the pair. When they appear, the star on the Christmas tree lights up!
In Greece, as in Russia, the Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas in January, so the children will be looking forward to Christmas presents on New Year’s Eve, here brought by Saint Basil.
Austrian children have a visit from the Christ Child himself to deliver them Christmas presents. However, in some Austrian towns, it’s Christkindl – a beautiful girl-angel – who brings them gifts down from Heaven.
Down under, of course, Christmas falls in the middle of summer, so who turns up before the kids head off with the family for Christmas barbie on the beach? Yes, it’s good old Santa Claus again, however, in Oz, he has a team of white kangaroos to pull his sleigh!
If it’s quantity, not quality you’re after, better head to Iceland come Christmas. Here there are 13 Yule Lads, who are a bit like trolls. For the 13 days up to Christmas, Icelandic children leave a shoe on their windowsill. Each night one of the Yule Lads comes down from the mountain to leave something as a gift. If they’ve been good, the children may get sweets, but if not, they’re likely to get rotting potatoes
Finally, those lucky children in Italy are also still receiving gifts on the night of 6th January, as that’s when La Befana, the good witch, makes her way around delivering Christmas presents. The old lady, bent double and dressed in black, often rides a broomstick, and like Father Christmas, may deliver the presents down the chimney into the children’s stockings hanging up there. If they’re good, they may get sweets and presents, but woe betide the bad ones, as they’ll just get a piece of coal!