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What Father Christmas looks like around the world

By Neil Gauld, 

It’s beginning to look a lot like… 

The time is fast approaching to swap translating requests for Christmas card writing and enjoying the festive season. Our Brightlines translators from all over the world have been talking about Christmas, and in particular Father Christmas. We mean Santa Claus. Sorry – did we say Sinterklaas? We meant to say St Nic. Are we going slightly crackers – or could it be time to think a little bit about…  

Father Christmas around the world

Isn’t he (or she…) the same everywhere? Is that a sigh we hear from our merry translation team? It is. Of course, Christmas is different everywhere – if countless languages are spoken around the world, why would there be one worldwide tradition that looked the same everywhere? It would make no sense…Okay… time to poll the office for some fun international festive trivia … in case you didn’t realise…the deliverer of gifts is not always Santa… 

UK, Australia and USA: What does the large bearded man in the red and white suit have to do with religion?  

Well, the version of Santa that we recognise in the UK, Australia and the USA has his origins in the third century and the monk, St Nicholas. Legend has it that Nicholas was raised in a deeply religious Christian household. When his wealthy parents died, he spent his life distributing their wealth to the poor, and Santa Claus with his jolly demeanour and sack derives from this tradition. We are yet to understand how distribution via chimneys, or the flying sleigh ties into this story but will keep you posted when we find out. 

Italy: How are witches and broomsticks connected to Christmas? 

The witch in question was a woman called Befana. She was actually rather lovely. So lovely, in fact, that the Wise Men popped by on their way to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus and she let them stay the night. The next day they asked Befana to go with them to Bethlehem. Unfortunately, she couldn’t go, and they left without her. But later, she realized that she could go, after all, so she sped off on her broomstick to catch them up, but she got lost and that is why there is no witch in the nativity story. And, she still travels every year on January 5th bringing treats to good children – and, wait for it, coal to the naughty ones! 

Finland: Who is Joulupukki? 

Now don’t answer too quickly as the most obvious translation is not the correct one…Joulupukki is… the Yule Goat, also called Finnish Santa. Note the double n. The Yule Goat was not traditionally that jolly – in fact, s/he was allied to the Norse god Odin, renowned for calling around and demanding your food and presents. 

Luckily, the modern version of Joulupukki calls round and checks if there are well-behaved children in. If there are s/he hands out gifts. Like Santa, Joulupukki travels by sleigh, but not a flying one, so we guess delivery time is a little slower in Finland. Something a little sinister about models of Joulupukki is that they are made of straw and it is popular to light them up after the gifts are delivered. 

Iceland: Who’s afraid of Krampus? 

 Don’t read this if you scare easily, but in Iceland, there is a pack of elves that you are probably best to hide away from. They are called the Yule Lads. Krampus is just one of them, there are thirteen altogether. Yes, 13 – so either be good – or hide good! 

The elves’ purpose is to be nasty to naughty children. They are not like those sweet elves that make toys in Santa’s workshop. No. In the run-up to Christmas, they do everything from stealing food to kidnapping naughty children. Good children leave their shoes by the window as the elves can be known to deliver sweets or little gifts. But we wouldn’t leave the window open if we were them though. Naughty children get rotten potatoes left in their shoes. Not the stocking filler we’d be hoping for! 

How was your trivia knowledge? Are you ready for a Christmas games fest? Wherever you are and however you choose to celebrate, a very Happy Christmas to EVERYone from all of us at Brightlines!  

Brightlines is an agency based in the UK but we employ translators from all over the world. All of our translators speak both English and their translating specialist language at native speaker level, meaning that the work we do for our clients convey their messages with not only linguistic accuracy but also with completely suitable cultural tone and nuance. We can say exactly what you mean in any language, so if you are wondering how we can make your Christmas, please feel free to contact us today.

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