La Navidad: All About Santa Claus in Spanish
“Santa Claus is coming to town!”
Yes, and he comes to Spanish-speaking towns, too, bringing presents to Spanish and Latin American girls and boys.
But, what do you call Santa Claus in Spanish? What about his reindeer? Santa is a beloved figure in the Spanish world, and with a few differences, he plays the same role as in the United States.
Do you want to know more about Santa Claus in Spanish?
Keep reading and discover who delivers Christmas presents to Latin American children, what we call Santa Claus in Spanish, and how people celebrate with Spanish Christmas traditions.
Finally, we’ll learn some fun Santa-Claus-related vocabulary and find out about the things that Santa does in Spanish.
Who Delivers Christmas Presents for Spanish-Speaking Children?
Kids in Latin America and Spain receive Christmas presents every year, but the figure who delivers them may change from one country to another. According to a collection of polls, Christmas presents are delivered in Latin America by
- Santa Claus (with his different names)
- El Niño Jesús (Baby Jesus)
- Los Reyes Magos (Wise Men)
- La familia (family)
Besides these characters, there have been other attempts to create more local or religious “Santas” with little success. Among these failed tries, you can count the following:
- Olentzero, a charcoal maker from Spain’s Basque Country
- Quetzalcóatl, an Aztec god pushed by a Mexican president to replace Santa Claus
- El Niño Manuelito and Taita Noel were attempts by the Peruvian government to offer an Andean version of Santa for South American children
Santa Claus in Spanish: Names
When Santa Claus does deliver presents in Latin America, he goes by a few different names:
Papá Noel, or “Father Christmas,” is the preferred term in countries such as Uruguay, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Spain. The name is a derivation from the French Père Noël, who has a story and origin similar to that of Santa Claus.
In Latin American countries such as Honduras and Venezuela, children still call Santa by his original name: San Nicolás (Saint Nicholas). He was a Christian bishop, born in what is today Turkey in the 3rd century AD, who worked for the poor and the children and was associated with gift-giving.
Fun fact: try saying “Saint Nicholas” super fast and you’ll get a sound very similar to “Santa Claus.”
In Chile, they call Santa Viejito Pascuero which means “Old Man Christmas.” The story, image, and tradition are exactly the same as that of Santa Claus, they just like calling him another name. This one is my personal favorite.
Not to be confused with the weird baby jumping Spanish festival by the same name, Colacho is simply an affectionate way to refer to Santa in Costa Rica. San Nicolás, Nicolacho, Colacho. His image is the same as Santa, but in this country, he doesn’t deliver Christmas presents. That job is reserved for Baby Jesus.
In many Latin American countries, Santa Claus is a well-established figure and they call him by the English term. In Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, Santa Claus in Spanish is sometimes called Santa Clós or Santa Cló to refer to the exact same character as in the United States.
Santa Claus in Spanish: Image and Influence
The forces of globalization have made Santa Claus an international and irresistible figure. Poor Baby Jesus (not to mention Quetzalcóatl or el Niño Manuelito) is fighting an uphill battle against the ever-present story and marketing of the jolly old guy in red.
Many families in Latin America are Catholic, and parents try to keep their traditions alive for their children. But the kids also have Netflix, and there are no movies where Baby Jesus saves Christmas for everybody.
The appeal of Santa Claus in Spanish is that he has a feasible backstory that provides parents with answers for each of their children’s questions. Where does Santa live? How does he make all the toys? What are the names of his reindeer? Meanwhile, el Niño Jesús doesn’t have all that sorted out.
Christmas Traditions in Latin America
Whether the great gift-giver is called Papá Noel, San Nicolás, or Santa Claus in Spanish, Latin American children receive their presents in one way or another. What’s more, la Navidad in these countries is rich in traditions and meaningful celebrations:
- Christmas Eve or Nochebuena (good night) is when the big celebration takes place. The extended family (aunts, uncles, and cousins included) gather together for dinner and gift exchanging. The extended family part is what makes Christmas in Spanish different; I’ve been to Navidades with over 50 relatives!
- Las Posadas is a tradition that involves re-creating the misadventures of Joseph and Mary when they arrived in Bethlehem and were looking for a place to stay. Half the family stays inside the house, the other half goes outside and starts asking for lodging by singing. In the end, they open the door and welcome the other half in joy.
- La Misa de Gallo or Midnight Mass is a tradition celebrated in most Catholic countries (Spanish-speaking or not), where people leave their houses and celebrations at midnight to attend Mass at the closest church. In South America (south of the equator), December is a summer month, so it’s not a big deal, but I’ve attended this Mass in countries such as Spain or Poland where it’s freezing, and the people’s religious fervor is impressive.
- Breaking a piñata for Nochebuena may seem strange, but that’s what Mexicans do for Christmas. Somewhere between singing las posadas and having tamales for dinner, we still find time for the piñata.
Santa Claus in Spanish: Vocabulary
Santa Claus in Spanish, like his English counterpart, lives at the North Pole where his elves help him make all those toys. Let’s discover how Latin American children talk about his fantastic world:
El Polo Norte – North Pole
El duende, elfo – elf
El juguete – toy
La fábrica – factory
El gorro – hat
Los guantes – gloves
El cinturón – belt
El abrigo – coat
Las botas – boots
La barba – beard
El trineo – Sleigh
El saco de juguetes – sack of toys
La chimenea – chimney
Las galletas – cookies
La leche – milk
Los renos – reindeer
La nariz roja – red nose
Rodolfo – Rudolph
Besides Rudolph, the names of Santa’s reindeer are the same as in English, but here you have their meaning in Spanish:
Brioso – Dasher
Bailarín – Dancer
Juguetón – Vixen
Acróbata – Prancer
Cupido – Cupid
Cometa – Comet
Relámpago – Blitzen
Donner represents the spirit of thunder and has no Spanish translation.
Things that Santa Does in Spanish
Now let’s see some of the things that Santa Claus does in Spanish, paying special attention to how the verbs work in the following sentences.
Los duendes hacen regalos para los niños. – The elves make toys for the children.
Santa Claus vuela por todo el mundo en su trineo. – Santa Claus flies around the world on his sleigh.
Rodolfo tiene una nariz roja. – Rudolph has a red nose.
Santa baja por la chimenea. – Santa comes down the chimney.
¡Santa se comió las galletas que le dejamos! – Santa ate the cookies we left for him!
¿Qué te trajo Santa Claus? – What did Santa Claus bring you?
Le voy a escribir una carta a Santa Claus. – I’m going to write a letter for Santa Claus.
Merry Christmas! Santa Claus in Spanish is a fascinating figure just like in every other language. Moreover, he represents the spirit of Christmas and brings the best out in people. I hope that you found learning Santa’s story and meaning in Spanish as interesting as I did.
Sign up for a free class to talk about Santa Claus in Spanish with one of our native Spanish speaking teachers from Guatemala—and discover even more about the Navidad traditions in Latin America!
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