Everyone is familiar with the image of the white-bearded old man, known as St. Nicholas in some parts of the world, Santa Claus or Père Noël in others. But there are images of Santa Claus in various folklore legends that few of us have ever heard of.
The Yule Lads
In Icelandic mythology, Santa Claus isn't just one person but a whole band of 13 white-bearded old men. They hand out gifts to children that have been good but can also be quite annoying and cause all sorts of mischief in the houses they visit.
The Yule Lads are accompanied by a Yule Cat, which eats the bad children and leaves a potato in the Christmas stockings of the good ones.
The Italian version of Santa Claus is Befana - a benign witch, who gets on her flying broom on Christmas Eve and goes around giving out gifts to children that have behaved. Bad children are given only a smack with the broom.
According to the beliefs, Befana provided shelter to the Three Wise Men, who came to Jesus on the night of his birth.
In the legends in Germany, Austria, Argentina and some parts of the US, Santa Claus is a hermit living in the mountains, dressed in animal hides and wearing a mask with a long tongue to scare children who have misbehaved.
Unlike the white-bearded old man most of us are familiar with, Belsnickel isn't a symbol of all that is jolly and good. The myth surrounding him has more to do with his making bad children settle down. Still, he does leave small gifts to the good kids, such as bonbons and other sweets.