Babbo Natale is Italy’s beloved version of Santa Claus. The jolly fellow has become very popular as gift giving on Christmas day has become an increasing popular way to celebrate the day, especially for children. La Befana, the old woman who delivers gifts on Epiphany, January 6 is still the more popular Italian Christmas figure, but Babbo Natale, is closing in quickly.
The Italian version of Santa Claus represents an aspect of Italy’s healthier life-style than the U.S. version. Babbo Natale is thinner and a more regal looking version of Santa Claus. Both wear red cloaks with white trim, although originally, Babbo Natale wore green and Santa Claus has had most decidedly more cookies.
All children know that Santa Claus comes from the North Pole and that on Christmas Eve magically brings presents to children around the world traveling on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Santa Claus was really born on the shores of the Mediterranean and evolved later on in Northern Europe to assume the present form of Santa Claus in great part for advertising purposes.
Santa Claus, as we know him today in the U.S. was made popular throughout the world by Coca Cola ads and Clement Moore’s story “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’) so there are many similarities. They all are kind and give presents. Most wear red. Some are fat and short, others are thinner and taller.
Santa has a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer and so does Babbo Natale. Their names are a bit different, though: Cometa, Ballerina, Fulmine, Donnola, Freccia, Saltarello, Donato and Cupido, in place of our Comet, Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, Vixen, Donder, Blitzen and Cupid.
In reality, in the beginning there was St. Nicholas, who was born around 280 AD, who became bishop of Myra, a Roman town in the south of Asia Minor. Nicholas earned a reputation as a fierce defender of the Christian faith in the years of persecution and spent many years in prison. None of the early representations of St. Nicholas look fat and jolly. As recently proven by forensic anthropological studies of the saint’s remains resting in the Pontifical Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Puglia, St. Nicholas was an thin man, with olive skin with a beard and gray hair. So much for that the Coca Cola jolly, red nose and rosy cheeks.
Still, the legend lives on all around the world, with Santa Claus and Babbo Natale representing the Christmas Spirit, the Spirito di Natale. His jolly, kind, all-knowing face is a sign of love to children… a reminder than in fact, they are loved… by God, by Santa and by their parents and siblings. He is a symbol of what Christmas is all about – the Good Life that God gave us.