Santa Around the World

By Jaina Kelly, Staff Writer

Santa Claus: the man, the myth, the legend. Across the globe, there is certainly no shortage of bizarre Christmas traditions involving a certain pudgy man. Between 1931 and 1963, Coca Cola ran ads that showed Santa in his classic red suit enjoying a refreshing Coke, with headlines like My hats off to the pause that refreshes. It’s not a new thing for capitalism to run hand-in-hand with Santa – in fact, drinking a coke is one of the more believable Christmas traditions, from a western perspective that is.

There is a lot that doesn’t make sense about our idea of Santa Claus. First of all, how does he actually fit down a chimney with a belly like that? It’s a question that is often overlooked and ignored in our committed efforts to the holiday season. In the USA, Santa became a symbol of goodwill and community after World War II and since then, he has continued to feed North America’s capitalistic and consumeristic tendencies throughout the holiday season.

He appears, as we see, around the holiday season to visit children in malls and rec centers everywhere. That being said, not every child who wants time with the big man in the red suit can brave the terrifyingly busy mall scene that accompanies the visit. This issue has led to the development of ‘Sensitive Santa,’ a by-appointment style visit which ensures children with anxiety, developmental disabilities, and/or behavioral sensitivities can be sure to have a calming moment with the jolly man himself.

In the Netherlands, it’s all about Sinterklaas. You can find many creepy, old statues across different cities, memorializing his historical presence. He is televised as he rides into town in mid-November to kick off the Christmas-themed time of year, alongside his sidekick zwarte Piet. In English, zwarte Piet means “black Peter” – a man who is said to be a Moor from Spain who came with St. Nicholas in the middle ages. In truly a cringe-inducing fashion, people who play zwarte Piet put on blackface and middle ages attire. While the stories of how Piet and Sinterklaas merged paths appear to be good spirited, putting on blackface is absolutely not something anyone should be doing in 2017. For that reason, I’m glad I’m not going to be a witness of the Dutch Christmas events this year – even if they do get their presents early on December 6.

In Serbia, all Orthodox families have their designated patron saint designed to bring protection, and generally the saint will have been in the family for many generations. Sveti Nikola is an important and popular saint who becomes especially significant on what is called Krsna Slava, a special day of celebratory thanks on the day of a saint’s baptizing. Slava celebrations include the Slavski Kolach, bread that symbolizes Jesus Christ, similar to what you find in mass celebrations across the globe.

In Russia, St. Nikola is seen as the protector of the disadvantaged, and therefore a big icon for many. He is often represented as a symbol of general protection for travellers, and his name has been loved as a popular boy’s name since the 1600s.

It is easy to get wrapped up in our Western bubbles without giving much thought to the incredible variety and beauty found in cultures across our planet. Corporate advertisements flash their desperation for us to buy our way through the holidays, demanding that we commit to a consumer binge. So perhaps we could all take a minute this holiday season to read up on how vibrantly unique each country’s traditions are – I promise it will give you a whole new perspective on whether buying more stuff is the really the reason for the season.