Santa Claus isn't just a big guy with a fantastic beard in a red suit. Which version of Santa will you be leaving cookies out for?

Santa Claus, his North Pole workshop filled with labor-loving elves and his team of flying reindeer helmed by one with a glowing red nose are like many holiday celebrations: one part truth combined with an almost infinite list of fictionalized add-ons. Across various cultures the same equation can be applied to Christmas-related legends, from Italy’s flying witch Befana to the porridge-loving tomtar gnomes of Denmark.

Santa Claus’ sleigh had only eight reindeer until Rudolph and his red nose were created in 1939 by copywriter Robert L. May while working for the Montgomery Ward department store. Before that, the Dutch and their Sinterklaas (himself based on St. Nicholas) was the basic legend on which America began building the story of what we know today as Santa Claus. And in his earliest Americanized incarnations, Kris Kringle, aka Santa, wasn’t meant to keep children from misbehaving but adults from getting hammered and brawling in the streets.

Regardless of the details, a general theme shared across several cultures is prevalent: this winter season, be good. Or else.

Story by Jay Moon