St. Nicholas and santa claus: difference explained

Customs – Santa Claus& Co The difference between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus

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If you have small children, there’s no way around it on St. Nicholas’ Day and Christmas: the presents belong in professional hands. And so the Christ Child stands with some, with others Santa Claus in the parlor. How did it happen?

Stuttgart – "Tomorrow Santa Claus comes, comes with his gifts. Colorful lights, silver ornament, child with manger, sheep and bull, shaggy bear and panther animal I would like to have."

The Christmas season is here. But who waits in front of the door on St. Nicholas Day and Christmas?? Depending on the region and tradition, it varies who brings the gifts – or in more serious cases: Who wields the rod.

Saint Nicholas

ÜFor centuries, St. Nicholas was alone among the gift-bringers. Today he is in Germany rather herald in Advent. Who on the evening before the 6. December properly cleans the boots, can hope for sweets and other trifles. But you should also have been good.

The nocturnal guest can largely be traced back to St. Nicholas from Myra (in present-day Turkey), who was considered to be exceedingly generous. The bishop died in the middle of the fourth century, supposedly on the 6th day of the month. December.

Customs surrounding the saint date back to the Middle Ages, but with the Reformation others gradually gained in importance: the Christ Child and Santa Claus.

Santa Claus

Cozy, bearded, big belly – this is how Santa Claus diligently distributes gifts. His characteristic red and white robe goes back to a successful advertising campaign by Coca-Cola in the early 1930s, but he is by no means an invention of the American sherbet brewers.

In Germany, Santa Claus was already united in the 19th century. Century approximately elements of Nikolaus and Ruprecht and was responsible beside the Christ child for the gifts. St. Nicholas was brought to the USA by Dutch emigrants, hence the name Santa Claus. Only the gift day shifted to the holy night.

In Germany, despite the Lutheran Christkind, Santa Claus comes by mainly in Protestant areas.

Christ Child

With this gift-bringer it is a little miraculous: Although in the biblical manger there was a boy, the Christ Child is usually represented by a girl with a white robe and wings. It has less to do with the newborn Jesus than with the idea of angels.

Today, the Christ Child is mainly found in Catholic areas, although the Protestant Martin Luther probably introduced this custom. As an opponent of the veneration of saints, the reformer looked for an alternative to St. Nicholas – and in the early 16th century, he swung the saint over to the saints. The speech goes back to the source: to the "Holy Christ" himself, who was supposed to bring gifts at Christmas.

Servant Ruprecht

Naughty children have always had to deal with St. Nicholas’ companion, who from a Christian point of view is regarded as a tamed devil. Knecht Ruprecht – in some areas also called Rumpelklas or Percht – stands for the threat that instead of sweets there could be pieces of coal or even the rod.

Over time, however, the assistant has emancipated himself from his boss and also takes gifts piggyback himself. In some areas – as for example the Erzgebirge – he comes still today at Christmas, as it says for example also with Theodor Storm: "From out of the forest I come here".


In the Alpine region, the Krampus is a frightening figure that accompanies Saint Nicholas at Advent. While St. Nicholas gives presents to the good children, naughty kids are punished by Krampus and put into a sack or basket. In other regions, Knecht Ruprecht takes over this task.

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