All over the world at this time of year people are celebrating Christmas, in all sorts of different ways. But one thing remains constant – the gift giving figure who brings the gifts for children the world over
We call him Santa Claus or Father Christmas, but what do they call him in other countries and how do they celebrate?
In Germany he is called St Nikolaus and he makes his first visit to children on the feast of St Nikolaus on December 6th, leaving sweets and treats for children. They do Christmas slightly differently too, as presents are traditionally exchanged when the Christmas tree is lit for the first time on Christmas Eve and the big Christmas meal happens then too. Here they all say Frohe Weinachten. Best of all for the children is the Bunte teller or Colourful Plate – a decorated plate with lots of colourful sweets.
In France it is very much like the UK celebrating on the 25th December. Santa is Pere Noel which is French for Father Christmas and the greeting is Bon Noel
In Italy the main gift giving is on the Epiphany, 6th January and the person bringing he gifts is Le Befana, who can be a fairy queen, a witch or an old crone, depending on where in Italy. Their Christmas greeting is Buon Natale.
In Iceland he is called Juleticlelads and the children all leave their shoes out ion the windowsills for sweets and treats
In Scandinavia they have a different tradition, where a small gnome or elf brings the presents.
In Norway they call him Julebukk or Christmas Buck and they call Christmas Jul. Julebukk takes the form of a goat-like creature, but they also have Santa, calling him Julenisse.
But in Sweden he is known as the Tomte and he comes out of his home under the floor with a sack of presents for the children.
Scandinavia is also where the Yule Log tradition comes from. Originally it was a whole tree, brought into the house and the end put into the fire. It would be slowly pushed into the fire over the whole of Christmas
In Russia Babushka brings the gifts and families eat a special porridge called kutya made from wheat and other brains to symbolize hope and with honey and poppy seeds to ensure happiness and success.
Further afield, in China they are very traditional and Christmas is not so big. Their main festival is Chinese New Year at the end of January, but they do have Christmas too. They call Santa the Christmas Old Man and they decorate their trees with paper flowers, chains and paper lanterns and they call them Trees of Light
By contrast Japan has gone for western Christmas in a big way. Santa Claus here is known as Hoteiosho and he is always pictured as a kind old man carrying sack gifts. But beware, he has eyes in the back of is head, so it’s important to be good when he’s around because he doesn’t miss a thing!
But the centre of Christian Christmas is of course Bethlehem. There the Church of the nativity is always decorated richly and many people gather to watch the annual procession. First come horseman and mounted police, leading the parade through the town. They are followed by a single lone rider, carrying a cross and riding a jet black horse. And finally the priests and government officials, who place the Christ Child into the church.
What traditions does your family or community have at Christmas? We would love to hear from you and we wish a very happy Christmas to all our students and readers at this time of year, wherever you are form in the world..