If you’ve never really thought about it, you should realize that the Christmas season is a wonderful time to reflect on identity issues.

As a young child, I wondered why there seemed to be so many Santa Clauses – all the stores seemed to have one in a “grotto,” while every street corner had one ringing a bell and collecting money in a cauldron.

the only other people I’d ever seen (in books) with a cauldron were witches – but I didn’t make a connection.

It never occurred to me – we didn’t even know the term then – was that it might be a massive case of identity theft, or identity fraud as I like to call it. Still, it didn’t appear that anyone was being defrauded by all of these “Santa’s helpers” who were scattered throughout the city - in fact, throughout every city, at least in North America.

We didn’t know about identity theft/fraud in those days – but was it really Santa’s assets these people posing as St. Nick were after?

They did fit the description of Santa, at least as it was written down by Clement Moore in “The Night before Christmas” –

“He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot… His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow. The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,… He had a broad face and a little round belly, That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly! He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf”
So it was really Santa’s attributes that were taken – dress, hair, skin tone, stature, shape, etc. But why? Well, in a word, trust. The people who put these ersatz Santa’s on the street (and in the shops) wanted us to trust him, just as we had trusted the “real” Santa to deliver the goods on Christmas morning. Those Santas were, in fact, a precursor to the phishing expeditions that are so prevalent today – emails purportedly from our banks and other institutions in whom, presumably, we have trust looking to deprive us of our money, usually – just like the Santa with the cauldron. There’s a lesson to be learned there.

Outside of North America, though, were there Santas and Santas’ helpers? Were the children who lived in those places deprived? Did they get presents on Christmas morning? The answer is an unequivocal “maybe.”

While I did wonder - in an abstract, theoretical way – how Santa could be in so many places in the city, I really wondered how he could get to every child in the world between midnight and dawn on December 25th. “That’s just six hours,” I thought. Later, after learning about time zones, I realized it could stretch to 30 hours. Still, an awfully short time. Then I realized that not everyone followed the Christian tradition – not all children waited for Santa Claus to visit – certainly not the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other non-christian  believers. I did know some equivocating atheists, though.

Further study led me to the realization that, in fact, Santa didn’t travel the whole world in one night. Children got gifts on a schedule spread out over a month – from Dec. 6 (the feast of St. Nicholas) through to Twelfth night – Jan 6, the feast of the Epiphany. But why didn’t I know this sooner?

It all has to do with “persona”. Santa Claus is, in fact, just one of the personas of the historical St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra in Greece (now Turkey) during the third century of the current era. There are more than 60 different personas for St. Nicholas, each having the attribute of delivering gifts to good little girls and boys. But they have different descriptions and – most importantly – deliver the goods on different days/nights of the year. The different personas vary from country to country, from ethnicity to ethnicity and are often modified to fit different religious (although mostly Christian) and pagan beliefs.

Juelie "Santalady" McLean has compiled a list of all of the gift givers associated with the Christmas season and provided a list by country:

ARMENIA - Gaghant Baba AUSTRIA –Christkind, Niklo AUSTRALIA - Santa Claus, Father Christmas AZERBAIJANI - Shakhta Babah BELGIUM - Saint Nicholas, Christkind, Kerstman BRAZIL - Papai Noel, Vovo Indo BULGARIA - Diado Coleda CANADA - Santa Claus, Santa Clause, Belsnickel CHINA- Dun Che Lao Ren, Shengdan Laoren COLOMBIA - El Nino Jesus COSTA RICA - El Nino Jesus CZECH REPUBLIC - Svaty Mikulas, Cert (helper) DENMARK – Julemanden, Julemand, Juul Nisse (helpers), Julenisse, Julinisse ENGLAND - Father Christmas ESTONIA - Jouluvana FINLAND – Joulupukki, Christmas Bock FINLANDSSVENSKAR (Swedish speaking Finns) - Julgubben FRANCE – lePetit, Le Petit Jesus, Aunt Airie, Tante Aria, Mother Air, Père Noël, Pére Noel, Pre Fouettard (helper) GERMANY Pelze-Nicol, Pelznickel, Fur Clad Nicholas, Christkind, Weihnachtsmann, Kriss Kringle, Shaggy Goat, Rider, Nicholas with Ashes, Ashenclos, Belsnickle, St. Nicholas, Klaasbuur, Burklaas, Rauklas, Bullerklaas, Sunnercla, Bartel (helper), Swart Peter (helper) GERMANY Northern - Weinacht (holly night) GERMANY Northwest - Pelzebock (helper), Gumphinkel (helper) GERMANY Rhineland - Hans Muff (helper) GERMANY Southern - Knecht Ruprecht (helper), Krampus (helper) GREECE - Agios Vassilios, Hagios Nikolaos HAWAII - Kanakaloka HINDU - Ganesha HOLLAND – Sinterklaas, SinterKlass, Zwarte Pieten (helper), De Kerstman HONG KONG - Sing dan lo ian HUNGARY - Karácsony Apó, Télapó ICELAND - Jolasveinn IRELAND – Santy, Santa Clause ITALY - La Befana, Befano, Babbo Natale INDIA - Ganesha JAPAN - Santa Kurohsu, Hoteisho, Hoteiosho, Jizo, Santa no ojisan LATVIA - Ziemmassve'tku veci'tis, Winter Holiday Old Man, Santa Klausam LIBERIA - Black Peter LITHUANIA - Kaledu Senis MEXICO - El Nino Jesus, Three Kings, Black Peter NETHERLANDS - Sint Nikolass, Zwart Piet (helper), Black Pete, Kerstman NEW ZEALAND - Santa Claus, Father Christmas NORWAY – Julenisse, Julenissen, Julebukk PALESTINE - La Befana PERU - Papa Noel POLAND - Star Man, Wise Man, Swiety Mikolaj, Gwiazdor PORTUGAL - Menino Jesus, Pai Natal, Pia Natal PUERTO RICO - Three kings ROMANIA - Mos Craciun RUSSIA - St. Nicholas, Father Frost, Ded Moroz, Grandfather Frost, Snegurochka, Snow Maiden, Babouschka SERBO-CORATIAN - Bozic Bata SCANDINAVIA – Juleniss, Oden SCOTLAND - Santa Clause SICILY - St. Lucia SLOVENIA – Bozicek, Miklavz, Jezuscek, Dedek Mraz SPAIN - Papa Noel, Los Reyes Magos (Magic Kings-Three Wise Men - Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar), Olentzero SWEDEN – Tomte, Jultomten, Tomten, Julbocken, St. Lucia SWITZERLAND – Samiclaus, Samichlaus, Schmutzli (helper) TURKEY - St. Nicholars, St. Nick URUGUAY - Feliz Navidad, Jolly Old Elf, The Magi UNITED STATES - Santa Clause, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle VENEZUELA - San Nicol‡s, Ni–o Jesœs WALES – Ilwyd, Sion Corn YUGOSLAVIA - Deda Mraz
Hopefully he (she?, they? – check those names carefully!) doesn’t need to remember a different password for each, although juggling all those passports could be a problem.

So different personas come at different times during the gift giving season but by keeping each in a national or ethnic “silo” no one realized that they could attempt to compound their gift receiving by, for example, writing a letter to a few different personas.

So that’s the take-away this holiday season – identity is bound-up in trust while personas are attempts to compartmentalize our lives. Two ideas we’ll be taking up again in the  new year – Happy Holidays!