Photo credit: © Prometeus | Megapixl.com
We have all heard about the travels of Santa Claus around the world. But, did you know, he isn't called Santa Claus in every country? Christmas traditions around the world for kids are very unique and special.
When I was a kid, I visited a Christmas display that fascinated me. It was about traditions of Christmas around the world for kids, and the different names and outfits of Santa Claus around the world. I absolutely loved learning how Christmas is celebrated in countries around the world.
We have also experienced some of these special traditions first hand. Living in London, our kids experienced Father Christmas in a grotto, which was very different than our experience of sitting with Santa Clause to take a picture at an American shopping mall. If you have seen any Peppa Pig Christmas episode, you will recognize this tradition.
Sharing the names of Santa Claus around the world and traditions of Christmas around the world is a great way to introduce children to world cultures and countries. In some countries, it isn't even Santa who visits! They may set out shoes instead of stockings, and celebrations may happen on dates other than Christmas eve.
So I asked some of my fellow bloggers to share stories of Santa Claus around the world and traditions of Christmas around the world for kids. I hope you will find these as fascinating as I do and share them with your children!
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Discovering new traditions is a great way to celebrate Christmas, and connect kids with children around the globe. Not only are the names of Santa Claus around the world different, in many countries Santa Claus ISN'T the main character of Christmas. Children and families may set out different treats, he may show up with a cowboy hat, and celebrate on different dates.
Learning about Santa Claus around the world is a wonderful way to introduce kids to world cultures. And, perhaps you may incorporate new traditions into your Christmas celebrations, along with maybe trying new Christmas desserts around the world!
To give you authentic information, I reached out to my fellow bloggers! Many of them live around the world or have spent some time in these countries, and are sharing wonderful traditions.
Though not all countries that celebrate Christmas are included, this is quite a fantastic collection of stories and traditions to share with your kids. And a great way to think about Santa Claus as he travels the world!
by Steve of Austria Direct blog
The Heilige Nikolaus is part of the Advent celebrations in central Europe. St Nicholas of Myra, as he is known in English, is the original Santa Claus.
The Feast of St Nicholas is on December 06 and, originally, this was the day when presents were given to children who had been good in the previous years. This custom was suppressed during the religious wars of the Middle Ages but the tradition remained strong in Austria, Bavaria, and northern Italy.
On the evening before the Feast of St Nikolaus, a figure dressed in a bishop’s costume as the Heilige Nikolaus will parade through the streets. His traditional accompaniment is a group of Krampus, scary figures in wooden masks, wearing furs and clanking cowbells, and armed with birch twigs and coal ash to punish those who have been bad.
These processions have become very popular in recent decades and the best-known ‘Krampus runs’ feature hundreds of participants from traditional Krampus groups around the region.
But in other locations, the Heilige Nikolaus (and the Krampus!) will still go door to door to visit families. They question the children and (forewarned by the parents) tell them if they have to do better next year before distributing bags of goodies.
by Bruna of I Heart Brazil blog
If you’re celebrating Christmas in Brazil, you will want to learn about a sympathetic old guy named Papai Noel.
Papai Noel is basically the Brazilian Santa Claus. For starters, “Papai” is Portuguese for daddy and “Noel” comes from the Latin Natalis, which means “relating to birth.”
This friendly guy wears red and has a long white beard, and although he is very old, he travels all the way from the North Pole to bring gifts to Brazilian children.
Contrary to Europe’s tradition, our version of Santa Claus doesn’t come from Finland specifically, but from an ice-covered magical town with no name in the North Pole. He lives with his wife, the Mamãe Noel, countless magic elves, and about ten reindeer.
Most children visit sparkling Christmas trees arranged by the local government in their towns. There, they sit on Papai Noel’s lap to take a picture with him and tell him their wishes. If they behave enough, they might be surprised by a gift coming through the window, not the chimney, as Brazil is too warm for that after all.
by Albi of Ginger Around The World blog
In Czech Republic, we don't have a father Christmas or generally typical western view of this persona. Instead, we have Baby Jesus that brings gifts to kids. In Czech, we call him Ježíšek, which is a form of the name of Jesus but very small.
It seems like people imagine Baby Jesus differently generation from generation. My mom and her parents told me that they always saw him as a little baby, perhaps a gothic little angel, that would bring a lot of gifts in a bag. In the '90s, when the Czech Republic finally opened to the western world and culture, people started to see him differently, because of Santa Claus. That is mainly the case with my sisters.
There are no big traditions around him. However, it is necessary to send him a letter where you would describe if you were good or bad and what would you like for your behavior. When baby Jesus comes with a gift, he would typically have a bell and ring it so people could pick up the presents but he must not be seen.
However, the traditional dish for Christmas dinner is carp. In some families, they would have a tradition that the family would trade the carp for gifts. This basically means that the carp is killed when the kids don't see it and then they would believe that it is traded for the gifts. It very much depends on the family though.
One Czech tradition is Christmas markets. These are stalls that sell crafts, food, and gifts. Prague has many Christmas markets to visit.
by Victoria from Tori Leigh blog
In Denmark, Santa is referred to as Julemanden, which translates to “The Yule Man.” He’s depicted as short, with a white beard, grey clothing, and red hat, similarly to a gnome. Julemanden is an evolution of Julenisse (among other names). In Danish folklore, Nisse, also similar to gnomes, would bring all sorts of mischief, while the “Julenisse” would bring good fortune if treated well.
Danish families typically leave rice pudding out for Julenisse / Julemanden around the holidays.
Children who would like to write to Julemanden can send letters to his specific Danish address (on Reindeer way). Julemanden lives in Greenland and brings presents to Danish children (like American Santa or English Father Christmas) but on Christmas Eve.
Traditionally, a Scandinavian Christmas is celebrated primarily on Christmas Eve. He also typically leaves garland of Danish flags on a family’s fir tree, already decorated with candles and stars, as a sign that he’s visited.
by Sinead of Map Made Memories blog
A visit to Father Christmas in his grotto is an integral part of an English family’s Christmas celebrations. A grotto is a specially erected hut or room which is beautifully decorated and used by Father Christmas in the run-up to the big day. Grottoes appear throughout the country, in locations ranging from city center shopping centers to rural village Christmas Fairs.
In Yorkshire, you can visit Father Christmas on farms, arriving by a tractor! Excited children are usually greeted by a special helper or elf and are then taken into the warm, cozy grotto to see Father Christmas who will confirm the child’s name and age. He will also ask children the all-important question – what present would they like for Christmas.
After a friendly chat, Father Christmas or an elf gives the child a wrapped gift before it is time to leave the grotto. Father Christmas visits children in England on Christmas Eve when the children are asleep in bed.
As a thank you for his gifts, English children leave Father Christmas a treat of a minced pie and sherry (or milk!) and carrots for his hard-working reindeer.
by Katalin of Our Life, Our Travel blog
Joulupukki, as Santa Claus is called in Finnish, translates to Christmas goat. This old Finnish Christmas tradition originates when a person is dressed in a goat costume and performed in return for leftover food. Nowadays, this is seldomly practiced in Finland. Joulupukki lives near the Arctic circle, or according to some, a bit further away on Korvatunturi as Finnish tales tell. Joulupukki travels in his reindeer-pulled sled across the globe.
One thing is known for sure, if you want to meet with him in person, head to the Santa Claus Village right next to the Lappish city of Rovaniemi. Both kids and adults are welcome to tell their wishes. You can find him in his office, surrounded by busy elves and holiday spirit all year round.
from Eileen of Families Go! blog
Finland claims to have the REAL North Pole with the real Santa in Lapland. You can visit the North Pole, see Santa's post office, visit his reindeer, step on the arctic circle, and spend time with the man himself. The post office receives letters to Santa from all over the world. And you can arrange for your child to get a letter from the north pole, too.
by Daniel and Ilona of Top Travel Sights blog
While Germany is mostly famous for its Christmas Markets, the country also has a few other distinct ways of celebrating the Holiday Season – especially when it comes to receiving gifts. Here, children get a visit from the Weihnachtsmann. The name translates to “Christmas Man”, and he is our German version of Santa Claus.
The Weihnachtsmann comes on the evening of December 24th, when he'll sneak into your house and leave presents underneath the Christmas tree. As he's very silent, many children won't even see him! By the time they finish dinner and run into the living room, the Weihnachtsmann has left again. Fortunately, he'll leave behind a pile of presents underneath the Christmas tree.
And as German children will write a letter to the Weihnachtsmann during the Advent season, he knows exactly what to bring.
But the Weihnachtsmann doesn't visit all German children. Some families will receive a visit from the Christkind instead, an angel-like figure who drops presents underneath the Christmas tree. She's shy, so don't try to look out for her or she won't come.
by Nina of Lemons and Luggage blog
Christmas in Greece differs from other European countries because it's an Orthodox country. Even the most important figure is a different one.
Instead of Saint Nicholas, the Greek “Santa Claus” is actually Agios Vasilis or Saint Basil. Saint Basil is believed to have died on January 1st which later became his holiday and one of the highlights of the Greek Christmas festivities.
Because while Greeks have taken over some aspects of Western Christmas traditions, they have kept their own ones as well. The Christmas season in Greece actually lasts from Christmas to January 6th with many different events taking place.
For example, people will celebrate Christmas on December 25th, and you can see the Western influence in the Christmas lights in Athens and other Greek cities. But traditionally, the day where children actually received gifts was Saint Basil's Day.
On this day, people buy a cake called Vasilopita (named after Saint Basil) which contains a coin. The person who gets the piece with the coin is said to have good luck in the new year.
New Year's Day is also one of the days children go from door to door to sing traditional carols (kalanda) and get money in return.
by Kitti of Kitti Around The World blog
In Hungary, a well-known Santa Claus type figure called Mikulás, (Me-ku-lash) (or St. Nicholas). Mikulás visits children across the country every 6th of December evening. This also happens to be the name-day of St. Miklós (St. Nicholas).
Instead of stockings above the fireplace, children put their boots in the window. Mikulás will fill them up depending on whether they were good or not throughout the year.
In older times good children were rewarded with a selection of sweets, seasonal fruits, and nuts. However, nowadays kids are more likely to get sweets and chocolate. One thing that they will find in their boot is a Mikulás-shaped chocolate.
Naughty children only receive a switch, which resembles a small broom made with twigs, which means they will get a punishment. Of course, no one is only good or bad, so children normally find both treats and a switch in their boot.
Wandering through any small town, you’ll see these treats in windows even days after Mikulás’ arrival.
On 6th December (Mikulás-day), Mikulas visits nurseries and schools (even universities) in person. Kids prepare songs and poems for his arrival. Mikulás is usually accompanied by two evil figures called ‘Krampusz’ (kromm-puhs) who are there to scare misbehaved children. Children also have the chance to sit on his lap and ‘discuss’ their behavior with Mikulás. Even adults wear Santa-hats everywhere on that day.
This tradition is very similar to other countries such as Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, Poland, Czech Republic, and Romania.
by Annalisa of Travel Connect Experience blog
The Italians call Santa Claus “Babbo Natale”, which literally means “Father Christmas”. In the Italian tradition, Babbo Natale visits each family during the night before Christmas, bringing gifts to kids while they are sleeping. To say thanks to Babbo Natale, children leave a glass of milk for him in the kitchen before they go to bed.
In Italy, Babbo Natale is the male figure of Christmas and cooperates with a female figure which the locals call “Befana”, an old lady, not very beautiful, dressed poorly, but very generous. She visits the families during the night between the 5th and 6th of January. She brings old stockings full of sweets, and some chunks of edible sweet coal, for the kids which didn’t behave so well.
You will find the Babbo Natale and the Befana strolling around Italy’s Christmas markets or visiting Naples, the Italian city popular for the nativity scenes. It is also where Christmas is celebrated in the most heartfelt way.
by Maartje & Sebastiaan from TidyMinds blog
The December month in the Netherlands is packed with holidays with even two versions of Santa!
The month starts with Sinterklaas, a typical Dutch tradition with an old bearded man sharing its name (Saint Nicholas, or Saint Claus) and gifts with the world-wide known Santa, but little more than that. After this tradition on the 5th, Dutch families start decorating their houses and Christmas trees from the 6th of December. This is the moment the Kerstman image enters the Dutch houses.
The Kerstman – translated: Christmas man – is much like the famous American version of Santa. He is depicted as a chubby old man in a red suit, bringing gifts to families during Christmas. Gifts from the Kerstman are part of the Dutch Christmas tradition nowadays, though some families make a choice between either Sinterklaas (start of December) of the Kerstman (Christmas) or combine them into a ‘Sinterkerst’ celebration.
Unlike many other countries and Santa versions, the Kerstman has a bit more time for that. Christmas is celebrated during Christmas Eve, the First Christmas Day, and the Second Christmas Day. In some families, the Kerstman arrives on each of those days or asks families to open their gifts not all at once to leave some for the upcoming days. He leaves his gifts under the Christmas tree, or some in the more American Christmas socks (stockings) adopted by some Dutch families.
by Dymphne of Dymabroad blog
In the Netherlands we have Sinterklaas. During other parts of the year, he lives in Spain, but at the end of November, he comes to the Netherlands with his steamboat. His arrival is always broadcasted on live television.
One city in the Netherlands is chosen for this event on television, but he also goes to many other cities. During this, he hands out “kruidnoten” to children, which are small biscuits. Also, he visits children at their schools, where they often get presents and treats.
Furthermore, children can put their shoes next to the chimney or the door for some evenings at home. Sinterklaas rides his white horse on the roofs of houses and throws presents through the chimney. When the children wake up, they have a present in their shoe.
These are small presents, but during “Pakjesavond”, children get large presents. “Pakjesavond” (present evening) is on the 5th of December and it's the birthday of Sinterklaas.”
by Martha of Go Places With Kids blog
People in the Philippines love Christmas! And as the Asian country with the highest number of Christians (over 90 percent of the population), it is widely celebrated throughout the country.
Due to strong Western influence in the Philippines (including US occupation a few decades ago), many of the traditions surrounding Christmas are of western or American origin. One of those traditions includes the legend of Santa Claus!
In the Philippines, Santa Claus (known by the same name) usually appears as part of the commercial experience, commonly included in Christmas decorations in stores and malls. And many Filipino children believe in Santa Claus.
However, he is more of a symbol than an integral part of the Christmas celebration and some of the other US-based Santa traditions aren't followed. For example, he doesn't always bring gifts (although this depends on the family). And due to cultural differences, there's no tradition of milk and cookies or Santa coming down the chimney.
But the tradition of Santa as a jolly man who spreads good cheer during the holidays is a fun and festive part of a modern Christmas experience in the Philippines!
by Mal of Raw Mal Roams blog
The Santa Claus tradition in Poland is a mixture of influences from the west and east. Santa Claus – Mikolaj – in polish comes to children on the 6th of December and leaves them chocolates and sweet treats in a Christmas stocking or comes to visit children in schools and kinder gardens.
The tradition of Mikolaj in Poland comes from St. Mikolaj (Nicolas). He was a bishop in Mira what’s now a region in Turkey.
The legend says that Mikolaj was a very generous person always giving food parcels and offering help to the poor. It is believed that he died on the 6th of December which is now celebrated as Mikolajki and it is a different tradition to Baby Jesus that comes to children on Christmas Eve and leaves presents under the Christmas Tree.
by Lauren of The Expat Chronicle blog
In Spain, Santa Clause is referred to as Papa Noel and unlike many other parts of the world, he is not the one that typically delivers presents to children the night before Christmas. If a child does receive a gift on Christmas morning from Santa, it is something small. This will vary by family, as some do choose to adopt the Western World tradition of Santa. But typically, he isn’t the star of the Christmas show here.
Instead, children in Spain wait anxiously for January 6 when the Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos) visit homes and adorn Christmas trees with presents. On the eve before Three Kings Day, large festivals and parades are held to welcome the kings. Sometimes they arrive on a float. Other times by boat. Once even by horse and carriage! The arrival is very special and widely celebrated.
This night is the opportunity children have to give a hand-written note to their favorite king with their wish list inside. Once the parades begin, heaps of candy are tossed into the air for children to snag. Before bedtime, children leave their slippers outside their doors for the Three Kings to “fill”.
The next morning, families gather in the same way they do all over the world for a special feast together. Typical dishes served are roast lamb, seafood, suckling pig, turrón (sweet marzipan and nut bar), and Roscon de Reyes which is a sweet cake dinner with candied fruits on top. Baked inside the cake is a tiny plastic figurine of baby Jesus. Whoever receives the figurine in his or her piece of cake wins king for the day!
For more information about the special Christmas traditions celebrated in Spain, check out Celebrating Christmas in Spain, check out this post about Christmas in Barcelona!
by Nisha and Vasu of Lemonicks blog
Like any other Christmas celebrating country, Christmas in Switzerland also brings in Santa Claus and stories around it. He is known as “Samichlaus,” in Switzerland’s German-speaking part and Saint-Nicolas in the French part. He typically wears a hooded red cape and somewhat looks like a Red Riding Hood. He is a good Santa of course!
Unlike his other counterparts, the Swiss Santa doesn’t come down from a chimney and brings gifts. And he doesn’t come alone! The most interesting aspect of this holiday is that Samichlaus is accompanied by another Santa, a bad one. His name is “Schmutzli”.
They both come together on December 6th, to visit the children of Switzerland. They are mostly accompanied by a donkey to carry a sack full of goodies like chocolates, peanuts, and mandarins on his back. Schmutzli carries a bunch of twigs for punishing naughty children who have not behaved during the year.
To get a treat from Samichlaus, children are encouraged to recite a poem or sing a song. Before handing over the treats, he tells kids that he’s proud of them for behaving and Schmutzli doesn’t really punish but reminds them to behave.
by Amanda of Toddling Traveler blog
Santa Claus is the United States version of Father Christmas. He's usually depicted as a jolly, white-bearded man dressed in red.
The Santa tradition in the USA is that kids visit Santa, sit on his lap, and tell Santa what they want for Christmas. Kids who are on the “nice list” are then rewarded with presents from Santa on Christmas morning.
There are so many unique opportunities to visit Santa in the US, including these places to see Santa in Pittsburgh. The most traditional place to visit Santa in the US tends to be at shopping malls. You can find Santa at a number of venues during Christmas, including restaurants, zoos, museums, and traditional “North Pole” settings at Christmas markets.
by Erin of Sand, Sun and Messy buns blog
You’ve probably heard the world’s most famous gift-giver referred to by a few different nicknames here in America: Santa, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, and St. Nick are each popular. But leave it to Texans to put their own unique spin on the moniker by also referring to him as “Cowboy Kringle”.
Cowboy Kringle is especially popular in the Hill Country region of Texas, where many small towns are German in origin. It’s a fun way to combine German and Texan traditions! Kris Kringle was originally derived from the German word Christkind, which means Christ child.
For example, when the small town of Gruene, TX, holds their annual town lighting ceremony, Cowboy Kringle rides into town on his horse instead of arriving by reindeer! He wears the traditional red Santa suit, but he tops it off with leather chaps, boots, and a cowboy hat. He’s known for passing out candy canes to all the boys and girls, and he’s always happy to stop and pose for traditional Christmas photos — while sitting on a bale of hay, of course!
Learning about Santa Claus around the world and the traditions of Christmas around the world for kids is a great way to teach kids about world cultures and countries. It also connects them with kids around the globe. It's also a great way to incorporate new traditions into your holidays, and to spend family time together.
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