By Betty Vanderwielen

Who Brings Holiday Presents?

Part 4 of 4


December 28, 2017

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Door-Slammer is one of Iceland’s 13 Yule Lads. Though he leaves children a present when he arrives on December 18, like his brothers he has a mischievous streak and delights in annoying everyone in the house by slamming doors, especially in the middle of the night.

Part 1 of this series on holiday gift-givers talked about Saints and Santas, Part 2 about The Three Kings. Part 3 about Baby Jesus or Christkind. Part 4 will discuss

Non-Christian Gift-Givers

Though the December holiday season is generally thought of in terms of Christmas and its surrounding Christian-oriented celebrations, for some groups and predominantly non-Christian countries, other traditions are sometimes connected with gift-givers. Many of these countries draw their traditions from pre-Christian times. In the Scandinavian countries, small garden-gnome-like creatures called nisse are considered the spirits of ancestors. Called tomte in Sweden and nisse in Denmark and Norway, they act as guardians of the house and barn, part of the land which they pioneered into being. The nisse sometimes bring small presents but they are very temperamental and can also bring trouble if not treated with respect, especially if they are not given their bowl of julegrøt (Christmas porridge) with a pat of butter on Christmas Eve. In modern times the nisse have morphed into the Julnisse who brings presents on Christmas Day. In Sweden, the Yule Man (Jultomten) is pulled in a sled by, or accompanied by, the Yule Goat (Julbock)


In Iceland, the 13 Yule lads come down from the mountains. With names like Pot Licker, Door Slammer and Sausage Snatcher, they all have a mischievous side and are prone to playing tricks. Children place their shoes on the windowsill and one Yule Lad comes each evening from Dec. 12 to Yule Eve and each leaves a small present. Christmas Eve is a family day which involves a lot of gift-giving exchanges among relatives.

Non-Christian groups often have present-giving rituals also. Part of the traditional Jewish Hanukkah ceremony included presenting a small amount of money to children to give to their religious teachers in recognition of the importance of education. Later the practice evolved to giving gold-foil-covered chocolate coins to the children at the Hanukkah ceremony. In modern times, presents are often exchanged among celebrating members.

The Japanese have their own Santa-like figure. Budai was a 10th century Buddhist monk, under the name Hotei he is one of the Seven Gods of Luck. He is pictured with a shaved head, cheerful face and big belly (symbolizing the largeness of his soul). On his back, he carries a large cloth bag filled with food for the poor and candy for children. He brings his gifts on New Year’s Day.

Though Santa Claus is becoming more prominent throughout all countries of the world, individual countries still cherish their own traditions. Sometimes more than one gift-giver is celebrated. In these situations, often the bulk of the presents come on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and candy or smaller gifts are brought by other gift-givers on their special days.

In Switzerland, for instance, St Nicholas (known as Samichlaus) might bring a present on Dec. 6; perhaps the baby Jesus (or Father Christmas) will bring more presents on Dec. 25th and very lucky children might receive another gift on Epiphany (Jan.6) from Befana (particularly in South Switzerland) and/or the Feast of the Three Kings.

Ultimately, no matter the personage of the gift-giver, the bestowal of presents is a way to introduce and reinforce in children certain religious and/or cultural values. In addition to receiving gifts, children are often encouraged on those occasion to give presents to parents and siblings or others, which encourages them to experience the joy of giving as well as receiving.

Public doman

This Scandinavian gnome gift-giver brings presents piled in a cart and pulled by a mountain goat. Many homes and Christmas trees are decorated with goat ornaments shaped out of straw.


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