You know, it may be surprising that a really manly guy like me is into this sort of thing, but I have to confess that I love Christmas, I love multiculturalism, and I love the various incarnations of the Santa Claus figure around the world.
SPOILER: SANTA CLAUS IS NOT REAL, NOR ARE THOSE OTHER CHARACTERS WHO PERFORM A SIMILAR FUNCTION! SORRY KIDS! ;)
I have gained a particular interest in a few of those characters who sort of capture Christmas or a Christmas-like holiday and who are similar in nature. But there are so many other cool little folks, including a woman or two, who also bring gifts. I'm going to share a few, and I hope that others will share their nation's or family's Christmas traditions.
Santa Claus - Of course most of us are familiar with the chubby old man who shares the works of his and his elves' labor throughout the year.
St. Nicholas - The Greek bishop who lived in what is now Turkey from 270-343. He is the Christian character who contributed most to the Santa Claus legend as a result of his generostiy. Many countries celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6, i.e. Belgium, or celebrate mostly on St. Nicholas Eve on December 5, i.e. The Netherlands. He dresses in red with a bishop's mitre and crook.
St. Basil - Another Greek bishop who lived in Turkey and also was very generous, he is the Greek Santa Claus whom they celebrate on St. Basil's Day on January 1. Today his costume is basically the same as the American Santa.
Ded Moroz a.k.a. Grandfather Frost - He is the Russian Santa character who came to prominence after the atheist Soviet regime outlawed any semblance of religion in their holiday. Drawing from ancient Russian legends, they developed their own less saintly gift-giver. His official color was at one time blue, though he often is seen with other colored coats. He comes while you sleep on New Year's Eve, and gifts are then opened on New Year's Day.
Father Christmas - Drawing on pagan legends, Father Christmas is the incarnation of the Christmas spirit, and various translations of his name represent him throughout the world. Today in the UK he is usually seen in a similar red coat to the American Santa's, but much longer and looser on his more slender body. I prefer his former green costume with a wreath crown. He comes on Christmas Eve and his gifts are opened the next morning.
Christkind or Christkindl - During the Reformation, Martin Luther sought to get away from Catholic saints and pagan traditions and developed the Christkindl or Christ Child. This was supposed to be a gift-giving baby Jesus, but over time has now become a genderless angel, mostly celebrated in parts of Germany. He (it?) usually brings gifts that are opened on Christmas Eve. It is interesting to note that the name Kris Kringle came from Christkindl.
The Three Kings - The earliest gift-givers associated with the birth of Christ are the Three Wise Men, Three Kings, or Three Magi. Many Latin American countries celebrate their coming on Epiphany, January 6th, when they traditionally arrived (12 days after the birth of Jesus). Interestingly, in the Armenian Apostolic Church, January 6th is not Epiphany, but is Christmas Day. They too celebrate the Three Kings as their Christmas gift-bringers.
That leads me to another interesting point: the different days of celebration. According to the Armenians, January 6 is the original day of Christmas. Their church has always been a separate entity from the Catholic Church, and thus when the Catholics designated December 25 as Christmas, the Armenian Apostolic Church clung to the original day. So are there two Christmas Days celebrated in the world? Actually no, because many do not realize that as recently as 1918, there were two Western calendars in use: the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Both are very similar in that they are solar calendars that take Leap Year Day into account to keep the seasons consistent each year. However, the Julian calendar was slightly off in its calculations, and therefore a Leap Year Day occurred every four years regardless. But later the Gregorian calendar was developed that dictated that every century (i.e. 1700, 1800, 1900), the Leap Year Day would be dropped, except every 400 years. In other words, the year 2000 did have a Leap Year Day, but 2100, 2200, and 2300 will not. Over the centuries, the two calendars have gotten out of sync by 13 days. Russia was the last country to stick to the old Julian calendar, but with the 1918 October Revolution (which appears to us to have occurred in November, until you realize that in the Julian Calendar it was in October!), they changed the system to match the rest of the world. However, many Eastern Orthodox Churches still celebrate their holidays according to the Julian Calendar. What this means is that in different parts of the world, diffferent countries celebrate Christmas on different days. To most it is on December 25. To Armenia it is on January 6. To Russian and other Orthodox Church members it is on January 7. To the Armenian diaspora in Israel it is on January 19. The same can be said of other days. For instance, the Ukrainians celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 19. It's amazing what people do to celebrate!
So now that I've showered my knowledge upon you (and this was all from my research a couple years ago, without refreshing anything with those Wikipedia articles), I ask you how you celebrate the holidays. I'd love to hear it all. Twelve days of Christmas? St. Stephen's Day? What do you eat? What character(s) do you celebrate? Is it a Christian or secular holiday to you? Do you get together with family? Friends? Are you Jewish and celebrate Hanukkah? Muslim and celebrate Eid al-Fitr? African-American and celebrate Kwanzaa? Please share.