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Santa Claus, as viewed across Europe

Examining the man, the myth, the legend.

If you’re lucky enough to be spending Christmas in a foreign country, language learning app, Babbel has you covered when it comes to catching a glimpse of the jolly man in red. Will you be on the naughty or nice list?



Père Noël (pair no-wel) - one of the more traditional names for Santa - delivers his presents on December 6th which is known as the Feast of the Kings. The French have a cake called the galette des Rois that is divided so that each guest gets a slice, as well as leaving an extra piece for any unexpected guest.



The Germans celebrate with der Weihnachtsmann (vai-nahckts-mahn), and use an advent calendar (invented by German Lutherans in the 19th century) to count down the days left before Christmas Day. Advent calendars have come a long way since then, with makeup, jewellery, beer and even cheese now popular versions to help count the days.




While Santa is normally depicted as a jolly, good natured, kind person in many countries, this is not so in Italy. Befana (bee-far-na) is a witch who leaves coal for the naughty children and lollies for the well behaved. Befana is known to fly down chimneys or enter by shimmying through keyholes. Personally, we wouldn’t want to see either!



Santa is called Jultomten (jool-tom-tun), normally shortened to Tomten in Sweden. Christmas is celebrated in the afternoon on Christmas Eve and this is when Tomten makes an appearance too. In Sweden, smorgasbords contain a wide ranging spread of food and are eaten throughout the year. At Christmas, a typical smorgasbord contains the traditional ham alongside pork sausages, anchovy dip, herring salad and rye bread.



Icelanders go all out for Christmas with their festive celebrations lasting 26 days! Beginning on December 11th when Yule Lads or jólasveinarnir (yola-sveen-ah-nish) arrive and continues through to January 6th. The Yule Lads are a group of 13 mischievous tricksters accompanied by the evil Christmas Cat.



In Greece, Santa is called Ágios Vasílis (ah-gee-os bah-see-lees), and is celebrated for the full 12 days of Christmas beginning on Christmas Day and ending on Janurary 6th, which is known as the Feast of Epiphany. Ágios Vasílis delivers small gifts to children on January 1st. In order to keep evil spirits away, Greeks ensure fires are lit in their homes for the 12 day period, stopping any unwanted spirits from entering through their chimneys.


Whatever you call Santa, check out the Babbel app on iOS or Android to learn how to speak the language of Christmas around the world. God Jul, Buon Natale and Joyeux Noel everyone.


Published: 17 December 2018

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