It’s thanks to centuries of Byzantine, Greek, and Scandinavian myths and folklore that this Christmas, some guy will put on a red velvet suit and fake beard to sit on a throne in Walmart, taking kids’ toy orders. But Santa wasn’t always the generous man in Walmart, nor is he everywhere today. That man is just one of the many evolutionary paths taken by tales of deities, sprites, animals, and St. Nicholas. In other countries, the patron saint of giving inherited different traits, leaving Santa with quite a few doppelgangers around the world, including goats, monks, and wise men who travel on camelback. Below the jump, we take you on a tour of Santa’s many representations around the globe.
Japan’s holiday gift-giver is a fat Buddhist monk with eyes in the back of his head. Some say he travels with a red-nosed reindeer and some say he works alone, but he doesn’t arrive on Christmas in either hybrid Christian-Buddhist tale. Christmas in Japan is spent with family doing charity work. But on New Year’s Eve, the real action begins: the house is cleaned and decorated, then family members throw beans for good luck and await their gifts from the benevolent monk.