5 Unusual Santa Alternatives From Folklore - A Fun Guide
Updated: May 26
Here at Imagining History, we love a bit of mythology, tradition and folklore. And as we count down the days to Christmas, we thought we’d share with you some fun Christmas traditions and folklore from around the world.
We’re all familiar with Santa Claus; the jolly, white-bearded gentleman wearing a red suit with fur trim, described as having a round little belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly. He rides around on his sleigh pulled by magical reindeer (one of which has a suspiciously shining red nose), delivering presents to the children of the world.
But you may be surprised to find out that Santa Claus isn’t the only gift-giver to visit children over the holiday period. Many children in countries across the world have different, and sometimes quite unusual, characters visiting them around the Christmas period. Let’s find out more about them, shall we?
Instead of a visit from Santa Claus, Italian children might get excited about a visit from La Befana. You probably remember the Three Wise Men from the Nativity story. Well this kindly old witch, La Befana, gave the Three Wise Men shelter on their journey to visit Jesus. In their time with La Befana, they asked her if she’d like to come to visit the baby Jesus with them. She said no because she had far too much housework to do. After the Wise Men left, La Befana immediately regretted her decision and went out to search for Jesus on her own.
The story goes that La Befana still travels around on her broom searching for baby Jesus, and on her journey, she delivers presents to good boys and girls around the world.
Perhaps you’re a fan of animals and would like to see more than just the odd flying reindeer in your Christmas stories. Well if you live in Finland, you might enjoy a visit from Joulupukki the Yule Goat.
Much like Santa Claus, this festive billy goes around delivering presents to children on Christmas Eve. But unlike the subtle and magical ways of Santa Claus (does he come down the chimney? Does he have a magic key? How does he manage it?!), Joulupukki the Yule Goat hammers on the front door and wakes up the household by noisily demanding to know if there are any well-behaved children living in the abode.
If festive tom-foolery is more your thing, then perhaps a visit to Iceland is in store. Here you could be visited by the Jólasveinar, also known as the Yule Lads, on the 13 days running up to Christmas. Why 13 days? Because there are 13 Yule Lads of course! One Yule Lad visit per day.
These mischievous characters were thought to be the children of mountain ogres and would bring gifts for well-behaved children. But what about the naughty children? It would be rotten potatoes for that rotten lot! But the Yule Lads wouldn’t just bring gifts. They’re well known for causing mischief on their visits and often pull pranks like slamming doors, swiping your sausages or harassing your sheep (shocking, I know!).
If you were a naughty child in Germany or Austria, you would have more to worry about at Christmas than getting coal in your stocking. You’d have to contend with (insert scary booming voice here) the Krampus. “What’s the Krampus?!” I hear you shriek uncontrollably. Well, if Santa is the good guy of Christmas, then Krampus is the baddie. He is a terrifying demon-like creature who sneaks around swatting naughty boys and girls with a stick. According to folklore, the very worst-behaved children could be kidnapped, or even EATEN by the Krampus!
Tió de Nadal
Okay, that last entry was a little scary. Let’s end this festive list with something more light-hearted and a visit to Catalonia.
Here, children receive gifts from a super happy Christmas log. This log must be well cared for on the run-up to Christmas, with children keeping it warm under a blanket and feeding it lots of food every night. I know what you’re thinking; what has the care and kind treatment of a log got to do with Christmas presents? Perhaps if they treat it nicely, the log sprouts legs and wanders off to fetch some gifts for the kids on Christmas day? Good idea. But not quite.
Instead, children feed the log lots of food so that their presents can be magically created inside the log’s stomach (do logs have stomachs? Apparently they do now!). Then on Christmas day, the children hit the log with sticks to get it to poop out their gifts. Yes, you read that right! The log poops gifts! If that’s not the best Christmas tradition ever, I don’t know what is.