December 17, 2013
Some people have raised questions about how Santa Claus can bring presents to children all over the world on one night. The answer is actually fairly simple. There are three factors that make his Christmas Eve ride possible.
First of all, there are large swaths of Asia and North Africa where Christmas is not celebrated. They have celebrations at other times of the year when presents are exchanged. That cuts a huge swath of land out of his journey.
Secondly, there are several countries where gifts are exchanged on a different day, rather than on Christmas Eve. For example, in several countries children find their presents on St. Nicholas Day, December 6. Some of these countries are Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Holland, Hungary and Slovakia. Orthodox Christians celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 19, so children in Serbia and Montenegro get their presents then.
In Greece, presents are opened on January 1. In Spain and Mexico, presents come on Epiphany, January 6. And in Egypt, Ethiopia, Russia and Serbia they come on January 7, which is when Orthodox and Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas.
That helps Santa by spreading out the time frame for his travels a bit.
Finally, Santa has several very able co-workers to help him deliver presents, sometimes taking on whole countries, and sometimes sharing the load with St. Nick within one country. Santa himself brings gifts to many countries. Of course, the name Santa Claus comes from the Dutch name for St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas. Many countries have some variation on this name that honors a fourth century bishop from Turkey who was known for his philanthropy to the poor. In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas is aided by Zwarte Pieten (Black Peter) who keeps the naughty-nice list. Dutch children leave hay and carrots for Santa’s horse (he changes his mode of transportation as he goes, presumably to keep from tiring out the reindeer). Zwarte Pieten chases bad children with a stick.
In Hungary, Santa is known as Mikulás, and he is aided by Jólasveinarnir, or Yuletide Lads who come from Iceland. These helpful lads have names such as Gimpy, Gully Imp, and Sausage Snatcher. They might leave a potato for bad children, or perhaps a note telling them to be good.
In Australia, Santa changes clothes for something more appropriate for the Southern Hemisphere summer. He also rides six white kangaroos.
Santa travels to Canada, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Indonesia, some parts of Germany, Ireland, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovakia, Korea (where he changes to a blue suit), parts of Venezuela, and of course, the United States.
Santa’s busiest partner is Father Christmas or Christmas Old Man. He is known as Gaghant Baba in Armenia, Papai Noel in Brazil, Sheng dan lao ren in China, and Baba Noël in Egypt where he climbs through the window. Father Christmas also comes to Finland, France, Denmark, some parts of Germany, Greenland, India, Latvia, Lithuania, Lebanon, Madagascar, Portugal, Romania, parts of Venezuela, and Vietnam. Father Christmas uses a horse and cart in India.
It may seem like Father Christmas has a bigger job, but he has several countries where he leaves fewer gifts.
The Three Wise Men bring gifts to children of Mexico and Spain. In Spain, children leave water for the camels and Cognac for the kings.
Even the Christ Child gets into the act in some countries. He brings gifts to Austria, Costa Rica, parts of Germany, and the Czech Republic, where he rings a little bell before he leaves.
Several of Santa’s coworkers cover a very limited territory.
Saint Basil brings gifts in Greece.
La bafana brings gifts to children in Italy. She rides a broomstick and is covered with soot from coming down chimneys. Sometimes in addition to leaving gifts, she sweeps the floor.
Father Frost and his granddaughter visit children in Russia. Father Frost has a magic staff.
Finally, in Basque country (parts of Spain and France), presents are delivered by a magical man named Olentzero, who is overweight, wears a beret and Basque farm clothes and smokes a pipe.
So, now you know how children the world over get their Christmas presents delivered. More information about all of these gift givers can be found here.
Image Credit: Thinkstock