Christmas and Heritage

by blackspanielgallery

Santa Claus or a similar figure can be found in many countries, but differences exist. Having one of these to represent your heritage can be a wonderful family tradition.

In the United States our ancestors have come from many places, and for a variety of reasons. In this article I will concentrate on European Christmas, with a strong emphasis on Western Europe, as a group of heritages to be incorporated into our Christmas celebrations.

People often identify with their roots, the customs and traditions of their ancestors. There are many things we can consider, but for the sake of having a reasonable length article I will concentrate on the Santa Claus figure, albeit by many names.

Having a Santa Claus, or whatever he is called in your heritage, that represents your family history is an excellent way to keep the customs of your ancestors present today.

Of course, different food is important, such as the seven fishes dinner of Sicily, or the bringing food and drink to the poor as the Normans do, are important, and can also be considered. And inclusions of santons in Nativity displays might be a practice worth repeating. To properly handle these would require a multitude of articles.

Special Christmas Ornaments

Special Christmas ornaments depicting cities or countries are easily found, some nice and some too cluttered.  I find a gondola ornament representing Venice, Italy, nice, but a cityscape with several buildings forming a collage of mismatched pieces of a city too busy.  I show some of these in other articles that are listed here.


Nativity sets are popular during the Christmas season, but adding santons is unique to just a few places. It is a practice well worth considering.

Santa Claus

Santa Claus is the name known in the United States.  The characteristics of Santa Claus are a white-haired, bearded man of ample girth, with a jolly disposition who delivers gifts.  While the physical appearance of Santa Claus looks nothing like the image I found of the real Saint Nicholas, perhaps the generous nature of Santa Clause, and his joyful nature, give rise to the association with the saint.

Father Christmas

Many in the United States descend from people who fled England, Scotland, and Ireland to avoid famine or religious persecution.  While those ancestors may not have liked the government of their day, they would have had no problem with Father Christmas.  Father Christmas has a very similar to Santa Claus, but also can be found wearing green. 

Christmas Traditions of england

Christmas is celebrated in many countries, each with its own cultural influence. Christmas in England is fascinating, since many American traditions have similarities to them.

Pere Noel

While Pere Noel might translate Father Christmas, the figure is more slender than Santa Claus.  Pere Noel is also the Santa figure in France.  He is also the Santa figure in other areas with French influence.


Many in the United States have family roots from France.  France once owned Louisiana when it was much larger than today and went from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.


French Christmas Traditions

The French Christmas celebration is different, and includes perhaps the most lavish meal compared with Christmas meals elsewhere. Another difference includes using santons.

Sinter Klaas

In Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Belgium, Sinter Klaas, wearing red and riding a horse gives out gifts.  He is clad in red, and has a wavy white beard.  He wears a bishop’s miter, and represents Saint Nicholas.  In the Netherlands the figure is also the same. 


It is also possible to find white and some blue in the part of his clothing that shows from beneath the red coat.


Santa Claus in Germany is called Weihnachtmann.  He is decked out in red trimmed with white.  Weihnachtmann has a sack of gifts, and he can be depicted as carrying a Christmas tree.  He has a full, white beard, and is not too dissimilar from Santa Claus. 

Immigrants from Germany to the United States included some of my ancestors, who arrived in the mid-nineteenth century.  Actually, my ancestors are from Bavaria, Germany, but at the time they immigrated the country from which they came was Prussia.

Christmas Traditions Germany and Austria

Germany and Austria have very rich Christmas traditions. Germany has given the world the Christmas tree, and many Christmas carols, while Austria has given us Silent Night.

Babbo Natale

In Italy the Santa Claus figure is Babbo Natale, and he resembles Santa Claus.  He can have decorative trim on his red outfit.  He does not magically fly, even with reindeer, but some years back the character Dominic the Donkey was invented as a means of helping Babbo Natale up steep mountains so he can reach the children at higher elevations.

Italian Christmas Traditions

Like other European countries, there are ways in which Christmas is celebrated in Italy. And Italy has many picturesque structures that have inspired beautiful Christmas ornaments.

The Magi

Spain does not have a distinctive Santa figure, but instead uses the three members of the Magi as gift givers.


There are others, but these cover many larger countries, especially those that helped populate the United States.

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Updated: 11/07/2020, blackspanielgallery
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blackspanielgallery on 11/24/2020

I do not know if there was a particular drink, but I recall Rick Steves showing the distribution in his video, and I believe it was wine. The Normans include the Vikings, and their customs are different, perhaps originating in their homeland. Yes, they became French, but they d have some older customs.

DerdriuMarriner on 11/24/2020

Do we know what particular drink the Normans had to the poor?

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