As he does every year around this time, Finland’s Santa, Joulupukki, landed again in Budapest on Nov. 28. Joulupukki skipped the long journey by sleigh, instead choosing to arrive in the Hungarian capital by plane.
Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, where Protestant tradition links Santa Claus to Christmas, many predominantly Catholic European countries celebrate him on Dec. 6, when the saint his figure is based on, Nicholas, the bishop of the Greek port of Myra, died in 343 AD.
A well-known philanthropist in his time, his mythology includes a number of miracles and one modern version of his legend recounts that he dropped a gift destined to a poor girl through the chimney. The presents fell into the girl’s socks, who put them in the fireplace to dry, a story that serves as the basis for the tradition of putting presents in stockings to celebrate Christmas.
In pagan culture, Joulupukki, a winter figure in the Finnish province of Lapland, originally traveled in a sleigh pulled by dogs.
Most theorists believe when Christianity began incorporating pagan ways into their festivals, they merged the pagan figure with an already existing Catholic legend known as Saint Nicholas to create Santa Claus.
Finland’s Joulupukki receives more than 500,000 letters from over 200 countries every year. Most letters come from China, Poland and Italy.
Title image: Joulupukki holding a press conference at the Budapest Chain Bridge Hotel (MTI/Balázs Mohai)