Red Gap, white beard and bobble hat – this is our image of Santa Claus. Cultural and literary scholar Dominik Schmitt has in his dissertation dealt with this figure and SR-online explains why Coca Cola did not invent Santa Claus.
SR-online: Where did the Santa Claus come from?
Schmitt: This is a relatively complex history. Although keeps this myth has not invented Coca Cola Santa Claus. Santa is a figure that already in the 18th Was known centuries. In the moment in western culture, Christmas was no longer just a religious festival, but also increasingly a middle-class family party, appeared on the Santa Claus. It was afterwards rather on the edge of the birth of Jesus, but rather the family, which meets once a year and celebrate Christmas traditions with common food and singing. Here, the Santa Claus originally arose from the figure of Saint Nicholas. His religious context was less. For this he was a bourgeois-Christmas symbolic figure.
SR-online: So Santa comes not from the U.S.?
Schmitt: Sometime was Santa Claus, originally exported as a European figure in the United States. In New York the immigrants from Europe have brought a very strong Nikolaus traditions. This Nicholas was then mixed there with the bourgeois and Santa Claus as an advertising figure ever more present. And this Coca-Cola Santa Claus was reimported to Europe. The figure of Saint Nicholas and his importance in the religious sense is completely pushed into the background. For this you can fill the figure with new meanings. One can therefore use Santa Claus as an advertising figure for everything that is relevant to Christmas – from building savings contracts to sweets.
SR-online: So Santa Claus is a kind of commercial Nicholas?
Schmitt: Yes, but not only. The importance as a symbol of Christmas, the feast for families is also still there. So there is not just one Santa Claus. There are many. Where the Nicholas always had a relatively fixed meaning, Santa Claus is divided into many different meanings. One is the advertising character, but another is also of Santa Claus as a symbol of the Christmas family celebration. It is also being discussed at Christmas, if Santa Claus replaces the Nicholas. This is not the case. Santa has not displaced the St. Nicholas. Santa is created from this figure and is defined as an independent new figure to find next.
SR-online: But have not both the same tasks?
Schmitt: Yeah, also. There are indeed those classic mess scenarios where Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas be used as auxiliary authorities. So if you’re good, you get one of the two gifts. When St. Nicholas this authority is very strongly associated with religious content. So for example: if you aufsagst a prayer and pious were, then you get a gift. When Santa Claus this religious significance is gone. With him it’s more about bourgeois values to diligence and decency.
SR-online: Solves for the Santa Claus Father Christmas from?
Schmitt: The regional variation. In the Protestant parts of Germany appears rather Santa Claus, while in the Catholic regions rather comes the Christ Child. The Christ child is similarly formed like Santa Claus. The Christ child is originally a figure that refers to the infant Jesus. In stories it has been a little angel or a childlike figure that stand for values that go beyond the purely Christian. Both Santa Claus and the Christ Child are secularization figures.
SR-Online: How did the Santas are different in different countries?
Schmitt: There are many similarities that Santa is so open to interpretation. But there are still various Christmas traditions in different countries. In Germany, Santa Claus appeared so frequently in the mess. In the U.S., there are actually no mess, but there comes Santa Claus in the night of 24 on the 25th December. So there is no one who plays Santa Claus at the mess. Instead, there are department store Santas. In the German area of Santa Claus Is Coming to the families and brought while going to the U.S., the children at public appearances for Santa Claus. There he is a public figure, as he is a private figure in Germany.
SR-online: How is that within Europe?
Schmitt: There, too, there is a Santa Claus regardless of traditions mainly as an advertising figure. If you look, for example, in France, as is the name of Santa Claus “Père Noël”, so Father Christmas. The aspect of the patriarchy, the fatherhood is integrated there alone by name much stronger. The German Santa Claus is more of a grandfather figure, and less authoritarian than in France.
SR-online: So give the individual countries of the Santa Claus figure always a national or regional significance?
Schmitt: Yes, in Germany alone, the Christmas traditions differ from region to region quite strong. In some Knecht Ruprecht emerges as a companion of Santa Claus on with, at others they are each traveling alone.
SR-online: How is that in countries where neither Santa Claus nor Nicholas bringing gifts, for example in Italy? Immerse the figure there at all on?
Schmitt: In Italy brings a Christmas witch Befana, the gifts. Therefore, Santa Claus appears rather as an advertising figure and is not involved in the actual traditions in families. In addition, Befana comes at Holy Epiphany and not on 24 December.
Interview by Nora Füllenkemper.