He's the bushy-bearded, jolly-faced man we've been looking forward to seeing every Christmas since the 1900s. But Santa Claus isn't the only fella doing the rounds this yueltide. All over the world, children are waiting for their own version of Father Christmas – some of which are more than a bit different to the red-jacket weraing bloke we know. Here are some of the most unusual Christmas characters getting the world into the festive spirit.
Krampus – Austria, Germany, Hungary
If you were scared of visiting Father Christmas as a child, spare a thought for the little ones of Austria, Germany and Hungary who've grown up with the tale of Krampus, a terrifying, anti-Santa creature.
With the appearance of a ‘half-goat, half-demon’ – not a good luck – Krampus is the one who punishes the naugthy children while Santa takes charge of rewarding the good children. He announces he's coming with the sound of clanking chains before gifting naughty children with coal instead of presents (so that's where our parents got that idea from!)
Amazingly, old crotchety Krampus has his own celebration, known as Krampusnacht, when he appears in the streets and visits the homes of mischevious children.
Sinterklaas and Black Peter – Belgium and The Netherlands
Sinterklaas is based on the original Saint Nicholas we know and love and much like the Santa in the States, he is in charge of making ‘naughty and nice’ lists of children and delivering presents to the ones who have been good that year.
What makes him different is that he has a helper, who goes by the name of Black Peter. Peter is the one in charge of travelling down the chimneys and delivering presents (seems sensibel to split up the work) – a process that leaves him covered in soot, hence the name.
Ded Moroz – Russia
Translated to Grandfather Frost, the Russian Ded Moroz is different from Santa in that he delivers the presents to the children himself, instead of leaving them under the Christmas tree in the middle of the night.
Much like Sinterklaas, Ded Moroz has a helper, his lovely granddaughter Snegurochka – which roughly translates to Snow Girl. Interestingly, she is a completely unique figure in Christmas lore, as she's the only female helper. The two of them spread Christmas cheer and presents, working against Baba Yaga, the evil witch who hates children and steals their Christmas presents.
La Befana – Italy
Girl power strikes again in Italy as Befana, a kind-hearted, Italian witch who gets to work delivering presents to the well-behaved children and coal to the ones who were naughty.
She travels on a broomstick and delivers her gifts in the middle of the night. It's also thought that Befana sweeps the floor of the house before she leaves, sweeping away all the negativity of the past year. She wears a black shawl and is covered in soot from travelling down the chimneys, at the bottom of which a small glass of wine and some food are left for her by the families.
Jolasveinar – Iceland
Also known as Yule Lads, the Icelandic folklore has a staggering 13 characters like Santa. Believed to be the sons of the mountain trolls, the Yule Lads were originally rather mischievous, stealing from homes, disturbing farm animals and generally pulling pranks on the adults and children. However, modern depictions show them as more Santa-like, as they deliver presents to the good kids and, randomly, potatoes in the shoes of the naughty ones. They are sometimes accompanied by the Yule Cat, a terrifying animal who eats children if it isn’t given an offering of new clothes.
Hoteiosho – Japan
Hoteiosho is Japan’s festive gift-giver, who is believed to be a rather fat Buddhist monk, who has eyes on the back of his head and who is occasionally thought to travel with a red-nosed reindeer, like good old Rudolph.
However, he doesn’t deliver his gifts on Christmas Day, which the Japanese children dedicate to doing good deeds and charity work. Instead, he delivers presents on New Year’s Eve, when the family is all together and after they throw beans, which is thought to bring good luck.
- Thanks to Babbel (www.babbel.com) is the language-learning app for putting this list together for us. The Babbel app for web, iOS and Android makes it easy to learn 14 different languages from 7 display languages.