Who brings the Christmas gifts around the world?

J.M. Towers

The different traditions of the ancestral custom of exchanging gifts that exists around the world.

Santa Clause or “Father Noel” are the probably the most well-known characters that distribute Christmas gifts across the globe but in some countries there are other beloved figures in charge of this pleasant Christmas task.

Christmas gifts


In Westernized cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, where the people have been adapted to the capitalist system and their cultural customs, they celebrate Christmas with Chinese Father Noel, known as Dun Che Lao Ren. Wearing red with Chinese silk prints and a cylindrical hat garnished with balls, he leaves his gifts on December 25th in homes.


The Spanish Christmas celebrations end on January 6th with the arrival of the Three Wise Men who, riding on their camels, cross the Iberian peninsula to leave their gifts during the night of January 5th to 6th. In the Bible it is said that the three wise men – Melchior, Gaspar and Baltasar – saw the star that announced the arrival of the Messiah and went to Bethlehem to celebrate it giving chests with gold, incense and myrrh. Hence, the tradition that they are responsible for giving Christmas gifts in Spain emerges.


Here, ”Pere Noel” is the one who brings the gifts, which he carries on his back in a big box. The French Santa Claus, who does not wear pants but a long red tunic and a pointed cap, is accompanied by his rival “Pere Fouettard”, a somewhat sinister character who distributes the pieces of sweet coal and unwanted gifts to children who have misbehaved during the year. After Christmas Eve dinner, before going to sleep, the French children leave their shoes in front of the fireplace so that “Pere Noel” knows where to put each gift that he brings. At dawn, the children of the house get up excitedly to play with their gifts.


Legend states that the Three Wise Men, while crossing an Italian forest on their way to Palestine, came across the Befana Witch, to whom they asked for help because they were lost. The witch refused, but soon after she regretted it so much that she decided to start bringing Christmas gifts and sweets to Italian children.


In Russia, the one in charge of giving the Christmas gifts is Ded Moroz, which means “Grandfather Frost” in English. Orthodox Christmas is celebrated a little later than Catholic Christmas so Ded Moroz distributes hope among Russian children on the New Year’s Eve. He is accompanied by his granddaughter Snegúrochka, or “Snow Maiden”.


Norwegians celebrate Christmas Eve splendidly and, after dinner, families present the gifts that they find under the Christmas tree. The one who leaves them is Nisse, a kind of little elf or gnome with a white beard and a red cap. Nisse is a name that derives from “Nicholas”, the saint who also leaves his Christmas presents in other neighboring nations such as the Netherlands.  ■

© | 2019