Santa Claus Around the World

Santa Claus Around the World by Lisl Weil. Holiday House, 1987.

I have a special treat for St. Nicholas' Day! It's a wonderful nonfiction book from 1987 by Lisl Weil. You may remember the book Donkey Head, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, that I posted about back in June? This book is by the same author/illustrator.

So as much as I love to mix traditions from all over into our holiday season, I admit, we play it pretty old-fashioned American when it comes to Santa Claus. We have talked about the original St. Nicholas, we have talked about European St. Nicholas traditions (shoes, coins), but Santa is still the guy in the red suit who comes down the chimney.

This is the year Big Sis was ready to give up the game. She planned to "Susan Walker" us this Christmas, not telling us what she wanted. She wanted to see if she would get her secret wish, proving once and for all if Santa was real. She wouldn't let up, and finally, we told her the truth. It was a very bittersweet moment. She understood that she was letting go of a bit of childhood magic, and horribly sentimental mama that I am, I cried. I read the original "Yes, Virginia" editorial to her, which I think is so sweet. She decided she was definitely Team Santa, and she'd play along for her sister's sake a bit longer.  Little Sis is still into it, and I always loved the magic of Santa as a kid, even after I learned the truth when I was 7. (Of course, I'm also the mom with the fairy house in the backyard - or, I was, until Mr. B tore it down two weeks ago, to make room for the new fence.)  I plan on finding a used copy of this book when the time is right, because I love the history and explanations of different Santa-style traditions.  The book is informative but also simple and engaging, and I adore Weil's cartoonish illustrations.

The book first gives an overview of St. Nicholas: his generosity, his miracles.

It explains how St. Nicholas traditions in December began in Europe, starting with the Netherlands and Sinterklaas, where our name Santa Claus originated. Sinterklaas is often accompanied by Black Peter, who travels with sticks and a big sack, to punish naughty children. In France, Petit Noël or Père Noël is accompanied by Père Fourchette (Father Fork) or Père Fouetard (Father Whip).

The book touches on traditions all over Europe: Father Christmas in England, Samichlaus in Switzerland.  Boys in the Germand-speaking area of Switzerland get to help Samichlaus pass out treats.

The Romansch-speaking region of Switzerland, as well as parts of Germany, have a second gift-bringer called the Christkindl, the Christ Child (sometimes depicted as an angel), in order to put the focus back on Jesus's birth.  The name Christkindl is similar to Kris Kringle.

And in Austria, Hungary, and some other nearby countries, Niklaus is accompanied by the Krampus! Gruß vom Krampus!

Krampus prunes!!!

While I knew about Russia's Baboushka - the old lady who was too busy to go with the Wise Men, so now she searches for him, leaving gifts behind for the children - I wasn't aware that Italy has their Befana, with a similar story.

And we do get to read a bit about the Tomten of Scandinavia, riding their Julebock.

We learn a bit about Mexico, and about the gift bringers of Japan, Korea, and China, before heading back to the United States.  Weil mentions how the original American St. Nicholas looked more like a bishop, but how the different European traditions began to melt together to create the modern Santa Claus. .)

Whatever your tradition, have a beautiful 6th of December!

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  1. ok i'll write moe later, I have a lot to say! or let's see what I can get out now. J is still on board, but I'm worried it will be a big big drama when she gets wind of the deal. she told me last yr - i know Elfy (she's more interested in her elf than santa) is real because you would NEVER lie to me Mom! &^^%$$##$%^^& what am I supposed to do with THAT??

    it was such a non biggie for me when i was little - i realized that santa's writing matched my mother's. i was like, oh. so that's how it is. just inside my head. and went on with my day. i didn't really care as long as my stocking was filled ha ha ha!

    1. Haha, oh the drama! Big Sis did tell me I can just give her her tooth money directly next time. No more middle man. ;)

      We don't do Elf on the Shelf. They came out one year while I was still working, and very, very broke. (Mr. B was furloughed at the time.) They had them stacked so high in the store, and I had to do a storytime for it (required). I had Elf Overload that year, and never went with it. If I had wanted to do it, I do have my little vintage knee-hugger elf on the tree. He'd do nicely. But naaaah. The Advent calendar is enough work! ;)

  2. Oh the unveiling of the Santa story... I expect I'll cry too when it comes to that. It truly is a part of growing up, letting go of childhood magic -sigh. I don't now how long it'll last for my girls, cuz they have older cousins -boys- who found out last year and couldn't help spreading *rumors* that Santa didn't exist and pretending to be grownup.. (I begged them to play along for Stavroula and they agreed). She was too young to really digest what they were saying anyway. But this year...I hope they won't spoil it for her.
    I found out when I was in the third grade and don't remember any drama about it. I just knew, sort of because my extended family (that didn't involve any children) wanted to play the game but didn't know how and they must have given it away.. But, some years later, I kept the secret faithfully for my little sister...

    1. I remember feeling sorry for pushing the question. I realized I wanted to keep believing, and having a younger sister, I pretended. I hope Stavroula keeps believing for you a while longer! xoxo


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