MILLIONS OF little children around the world are awaiting the arrival of a big guy wearing a red suit riding in a sleigh full of presents being pulled by eight tiny reindeer.
Here in the United States, we call the jolly old elf Santa Claus but he has gone by many different names throughout the years.
According to those at Merry-Christmas.com, our modern-day Santa may have been based on the early Dutch legend of Sinterklaas, originating in the 1600's while those at worldofchristmas.net contend present-day Christmas traditions have their origin the Victorian period during 1860s.
Santa Claus or Father Christmas has many forms around the world that have different personalities, different duties and dresses.
In Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, St. Lucia is believed to mark the beginning of the Christmas festivities and is also known as St. Lucy or "Little Yule." On this day, the oldest daughter in each family rises early and dresses up in a long white gown with a red sash and a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles on top. She is known as "Lussi" for the day and has duty to wake up each family member dressed in this manner.
Finnish, too, choose a girl annually to be the national Lucia and she parades surrounded by torchbearers as the name Lucia, derived from the Latin word "Lux" means "Light."
It is said that on St Lucia Day, sun's rays again start to strengthen. According to the legend, Lucia is the patron saint of the blind. She lived in Syracuse in the 4th century when Christians were persecuted for their beliefs. Though, not much is known about her, it is said that she lost her sight because she was tortured for following Christianity. Other version of the story says that she plucked her own eyes, as she could not bear to see Christians being tortured so cruelly anymore.
Scandinavian children leave their shoes on hearth for Saint Nicholas to fill them with treats while American children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve in the hope of getting gifts from him.
The popularity of St. Nicholas reached America in the 18th century with the Dutch families, who knew him as "Sinter Klaas," which later got transformed to "Santa Claus." He used to wear a broad-rimmed hat then with huge Flemish trunk hose. Later, he turned into a joker with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat and yellow stockings.
Swiss children wait for Christ-child on Christmas while Kris Kringle is the one to deliver gifts to German children. In hilly regions of Scandinavia, a jolly elf Jultomten delivers gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats.
English children known Santa Claus by the name of Father Christmas while Pere Noel fills the shows of French children with treats and toys dutifully.
Russian has an old lady called Babouschka who does the job on 5th of January every year. It is said that this lady was so used to solitude that she did not like being disturbed by the three wise men to ask for directions to Bethlehem. In anger, she gave them the wrong directions to mislead them as her supposed revenge. However, she repented her actions later and went in search of the men to tell them the right path and ask for forgiveness but she was too late and could not find them anymore. Ever since then, she visits Russian children and leave gifts for them in the hope that may be one of them is Baby Jesus who will then forgive her.
Italians have a kind witch called La Befana who delivers gifts to the children's stockings while riding a broomstick.
Santa Claus really started to get famous when American author Washington Irving published stories about Santa Claus, referringto him as Saint Nicholas who arrived on Christmas Eve bringing presents for children.
Santa Claus changed and became more famous when writer Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem in 1823 about a Christmas Eve visit from Saint Nicholas, better known as "The Night Before Christmas".
According to the website, American magazines picked up on the popularity of Santa Claus, and many different versions of Santa Claus were published over the next 50 years. Santa Claus even began to appear in advertisements for popular products.
The most famous reindeer, red nosed Rudolph started to appear in the late 1930's.
Santa Claus, Rudolph, and the other reindeer would get periodic boosts in popularity when songs, stories, movies, or videos were released about them.
Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.