Just as there is more than one day to Christmas. There are also more than one gift-giver during Christmas. The first is known by Germans as St. Nicholas who comes on the night of Dec 5. Today, most Americans know him as Santa Claus and he comes on Christmas Eve, but in Germany and in many German towns in Central Missouri St. Nicholas still makes his visits on the night of the 5th. In Germany another gift-giver comes on Christmas Eve and that is Christkind (translated as Christ Child) who is often depicted as a beautiful angel. The 1918 Bolsheviks in Russia banned Christmas and at first their gift-giver, Ded Moroz (translated as Grandfather Frost), and his granddaughter, Snegurochka, but 20 years later they brought him back and he now brings presents on New Year’s Eve. The big finality to the gift-giving season ends on the eve of the Epiphany on Jan. 5 or what is called Twelfth Night with four different characters. The three kings bringing gifts to Spanish Children, and the night is celebrated with parades and parties.
One of my favorites and often least known giver is La Befana for Italian Children. La Befana is often depicted as a lovable Christmas witch. In Italy the stores look more like Halloween than Christmas with displays of witches carrying bags of toys. Entire markets are devoted to her. Her story is that she was a house wife who was obsessed with cleaning. She let the three wise men rest at her home while on their way to Bethlehem and they invited her to come visit the Christ Child with them. She refused, stating she had too much house work to do. As she cleaned she began to realize that the house cleaning wasn’t as important as the Christ Child. So she packed a bag with treats and gifts, hopped on her broom to find the baby Jesus. She was too late as the star was gone and she didn’t know the way to Bethlehem so just to be on the safe side she leaves a gift in every home with a child just in case it is Jesus.
Incorporating these givers to my Christmas season has added a much greater depth and meaning as well as spreading out the fun and gives me a chance to explore other cultures. Happy Twelfth Night and happy Epiphany.