If you’re from the UK it’s Father Christmas, not Santa Claus. No matter what the adverts try to tell you.
A version of this name dominates western Europe in different languages – the French have Père Noël, the Spanish have Papá Noel, the Italians have Babbo Natale and the Irish have Daidí na Nollag.
Other variants focus on ‘Christmas Man’ or on Jesus, as ‘Christ-Child’ or similar.
These different names also represent the different gift-bringers in European cultures.
For example, the Italians have La Befana, an old woman or witch who brings gifts to children on 5 January in a similar manner to the legend of St. Nicholas, Father Christmas.
She fills their socks with sweets and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal or dark coloured sweets if they’ve been bad – or in Sicily a stick in a stocking.
She appears in the Christian legend of the birth of Christ as a woman who the three wise men asked for directions. She put them up for the night and was known as the best housekeeper in the village (hence the witch’s broom).
They asked if she wanted to join them to watch the birth of Christ, but she declined, saying she was too busy. She later had a change of heart and was unable to find them. The myth goes that she is still looking for the baby to this day.