Christmas is personified in numerous and sometimes ambivalent ways because of the overlapping beliefs in different countries. These personifications vary depending on socio-cultural context or differences in economic situations. The Christmas custom of mythical or religious characters distributing gifts and candy to children is found in France, as it is in Canada. Three main characters can typify these generous givers of gifts.
Saint Nicholas is the oldest children’s benefactor; his cult is still very popular in Alsace.
Next, up until the beginning of the XXth century in Canada, the Infant Jesus was responsible for distributing candy and toys. In the North of France he existed in the form of the Christkindel and was accompanied by Hans Trapp, another of the incarnations of Christmas Eve. In Franche Comté, it was Tante Arie, the Christmas lady, who rewarded or punished children.
Lastly, it was the turn of the legendary Santa Claus, for Anglophones and of "Père Noël" (Father Christmas) for Francophones, to take over; Santa Claus and "Père Noël" are one and the same person, and the result of a gradual shift away from the traditional Saint Nicholas. Their generosity first touched the middle class before spreading in the 1930s to the less well-off.
For children the world over, belief in the existence of "Père Noël" or Santa Claus took on such importance through media coverage that it found expression from the 1970s on in letters addressed to Santa at his residence at the North Pole. Canada Post Corporation was soon obliged to set up a special program to reply to the enormous amount of Santa Claus mail as a result of this phenomenon.
Canadian Heritage Information Network
Mission de la recherche et de la technologie, Direction des Musées de France, Musée de la civilisation, Provincial Museum of Alberta, Musée national des arts et traditions populaires, Département de l'organisation des systèmes d'information,