What Are All Of The Different Names For Santa Claus?

There are few figures as recognizable as Santa Claus. His red-cheeked and cheery visage is seen on TV, on posters, and at malls across the United States in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Though his name and image are just about everywhere, do you know why Santa Claus is called by that name—or Saint Nick, Saint Nicholas, Santa, or any of the other similar monikers?

Santa Claus is associated with Saint Nicholas, who is the patron saint of children. The Americanized name Santa Claus dates back to 1765—75, and it originally comes from the Dutch name Sinterklaas. The last bit of the Dutch name, Klaas, is short for Niklaas, or Nicholas. The Dutch, it turns out, had a big hand in the Santa we know today.

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How Sinterklaas came to be known as Santa Claus

The original story of Santa starts with the monk St. Nicholas. He lived in the late 200s in what is today Turkey, and he built a reputation for helping others by giving away his inherited money. After he was canonized by the Catholic church as a saint, people idolized him as the protector of children and sailors. They celebrated his life every year on December 6, which was the day of his death.

The Dutch, who called Saint Nicholas Sinterklaas, were one of the cultures that celebrated. In the late 1700s, the Dutch had a strong connection to New York City—a city first known as New Amsterdam. New York newspapers reported that Dutch families were holding Sinterklaas gatherings on December 6 in 1773 and 1774.

From then on, the idea of Sinterklaas was transformed bit by bit into the Americana version of Santa Claus (Anglicized name and all) that people recognize today. The writer Washington Irving called Saint Nicholas the patron saint of New York in The History of New York, and the minister Clement Clarke Moore described Santa as a “right jolly old elf” in his 1822 poem “an Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” (though perhaps you know it better as “’Twas The Night Before Christmas”). In 1881, a Harper’s Weekly cartoon of the poem put a face to the man complete with the belly, beard, and sack of toys.

Do you always do a double take at ’twas? How about the ’tis in “’tis the season”? Find out why we say that here.

What are other names for Santa from around the world?

The jolly version of Santa Claus with the buoyant beard and belly lives on today in the US. Yet it’s not his only depiction, or name for that matter, across the globe. What you call the magical, sleigh-riding giver of gifts depends a lot on where you are.

The Netherlands

Sinterklaas

The original inspiration for the US version of Santa Claus has some notable differences, starting with the name. Sinterklaas is the shorter version of the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas: Sint Nikolaas. This Dutch depiction passes on the flying reindeer for a land-bound white horse, and has a red bishop’s hat rather than a floppy triangular hat with a tuft of white fur on the tip.

Sinterklaas also has a problematic connection to the Dutch slave trade. In the modern Sinterklaas story that dates back to an 1891 children’s book, he comes from Spain every year in early December with presents and his servant Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete. Zwarte Piet is typically depicted as a white person in Black face and comes into houses through the chimney to deliver presents.

Germany

Der Weihnachtsmann, Heilige Nikolaus, and Christkind

Much of Germany knows Santa Claus as Der Weihnachtsmann. The depiction is similar to Saint Nick in the US, and he has similar present-giving tendencies.

Der Weihnachtsmann isn’t the only Santa Claus-like figure in Germany, however. There’s also Heilige Nikolaus (heilige translates to "saint"). This depiction is closer to the Catholic association with Saint Nicholas, and he comes every year around the original saint’s death day of December 6. Heilige Nikolaus wields a staff and looks like a bishop. He also travels with Krampus, a scary looking character who handles the children who’ve been bad.

And then there’s the gift-giving character who is divorced from Catholic saints that came about during the lifetime of Protestant leader Martin Luther in the 1500s. Rather than basing the deliverer of presents on a Catholic saint, that honor was given to Christkind, an angelic figure. Today, Christkind is depicted by a crowned woman in white and gold who drops gifts under the tree on Christmas Eve.

France

Père Noël

The name Père Noël literally translates to "Father Christmas." The original version of Père Noël has a robe and wicker basket, and he wanders with his donkey Gui (which translates to "mistletoe"). Kids leave out their shoes with food (carrots and other vegetables) for Gui, and Père Noël replaces the donkey food with presents.

In some parts of France, this friendly depiction of Santa Claus is accompanied by Pére Fouettard, which translates to “Father Whipper.” The name refers to the old legend that he would whip those on the naughty list.

Russia

Dedt Moroz

Dedt Moroz is the gift bearer around the winter holidays in Russia. The name translates loosely to "Father Ice" or "Grandfather Frost." Legend has it that Dedt Moroz traveled around on a sleigh and one day saw a girl who was thrown out by her stepmother. Dedt Moroz gave her diamonds for her kindness and turned her evil stepsister into ice. The figure is somewhat like a New Year’s Santa, as he typically arrives with presents six days after Christmas.

Turkey

Noel Baba

Turkey, the home of the original Saint Nicholas, calls Santa Claus Noel Baba, which translates to "Christmas Father." The original legend of Saint Nicholas lives on with celebrations on and around December 6.

England

Father Christmas

England’s version of Santa, Father Christmas, opts for a green robe with a hood rather than the red clothes, and he has a staff and a wreath of holly. The name dates back to 1650—60. For people familiar with Charles Dickens’ book A Christmas Carol, Father Christmas closely resembles the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Italy

Babbo Natale and La Befana

The closest modern version of an Italian Santa Claus is Babbo Natale, but there’s a Santa-like figure that goes back even further. Since the 700s, an Italian witch named La Befana has flown around the region on a broom giving treats to good children and coal to the bad. She did her work on Epiphany on January 6, which is the final day of the Christmas season that is designated as the day the three Wise Men made it to Mary and Joseph’s manger.

La Befana hosted the Wise Men while they were on their way to Bethlehem, so the story goes, but she couldn’t join them on their journey. She changed her mind after they left and tried to follow with a basket of gifts but never made it. Her lonely search for Jesus continues on the night before Epiphany, and she drops off candy for the good kids she finds in those homes.

Do you know what the word "Noel" has to do with Christmas? Unwrap the facts here.