jultomten or tomte (sweden)
nisse (norway & denmark)
jultomten & nisse are mythological creatures from scandanavian folklore that are usually small, elderly men (no taller than 3 feet) with full beards & dressed as farmers. they deliver gifts in exchange for a bowl of porridge with butter.
krampus (austria & hungary)
st. nick's devil-like counterpart punishes bad children who have misbehaved. he carries chains & a basket to carry off the really bad children to his lair.
zwarte piet (belgium, the netherlands)
zwarte piet or "black pete" was santa's african or moorish slave who helped him distribute gifts. he also had the task of abducting naughty children & whisking them away to spain (i guess their idea of hell?)
mummers are associated with the winter solstice & date back to pagan times when people would try to employ magic to encourage the sun to return. the mummers go from house to house disguised as animals, gypsies & zombies. they play music to bestow blessings on the homes as well as drive out evil spirits & ensure fertility during the year to come.
mari lywd (wales)
mari lywd translates as "gray mare" & involves carting a horse door to door accompanied by a group of singers & dancers. this tradition is a holdover from pagan celebrations before christmas was introduced to wales.
kallikantzeri are malevolent goblins that dwell underground but come to the surface during the twelve days of christmas, from december 25th to january 6th. it is believed that they stay underground sawing the world tree which holds up the world.
the chriskind is a winged, fairy-like being, dressed in gold & white robes with a crown upon her golden locks. known as the christ child's messenger, she visits each house with a basket of presents.
she dates back to the 1500s when martin luther promoted her to discourage the figure of st. nicholas.
the straw goat that brings presents to children can trace its origins back to the scandanvian myths of thor & his goats. in medieval plays, he accompanies st. nicholas & was the incarnation of the devil.
la befana (italy)
an old witch named la befana fills the socks of good children with candy & lumps of coal are left for the bad. she uses her broom to clean untidy houses before she leaves. scholars believe she is a medieval reincarnation of the ancient roman deity strenia, goddess of strength & endurance.