The traditional British name for who American’s refer to as Santa Claus is ‘Father Christmas.’ The name is also used by many other English speaking countries outside of the United Kingdom. The term ‘Father Christmas’ does not have the same origin as Santa Claus, but in modern day they are often used interchangeably.
The depiction of Christmas as an older, bearded man began in the early 1600s. The feasting, drinking and traditional Christmas celebrations were personified as this old, jolly man known as ‘Old Christmas’ or ‘Father Christmas.’ At the time, the figure did not give presents to children but was associated with the adult celebrations of the holiday such as feasting and hospitality toward friends and the poor. Father Christmas eventually merged with the jolly gift giver Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) and became associated with the American folklore.
Great Britain isn’t the only country to have their own specific name for the gift-giving man we know in the U.S. as Santa Claus. An elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver presents in a sleigh led by goats in Scandinavia. Pere Noel fills the shoes of French children with gifts. Kris Kringle delivers gifts to Swiss and German children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka visits Russian children, leaving them gifts. In Italy, a similar woman called La Befana exists. She is a nice witch who rides a broomstick down chimneys to deliver gifts and fill the stockings of good boys and girls.