Sunday, December 23, 2007

Santa banter

In Finland, where I happened to be this week, there is concern about snow or rather the absence of it for the second Christmas in a row. Much as they look forward to warmer weather, Christmas isn’t Christmas without snow and the Finns are clearly disappointed at the delayed onset of snowing. Is it an effect of global warming? Possibly.

Another thing I noticed this time was the passion with which Santa Claus was claimed as a Finnish product. Finnair’s in-flight magazine says, “You can say many nasty things to a Finn. He may not agree, but he may not argue either. But, if you tell him or her that Santa Claus originated in some other country, you are in big trouble”. Finnair’s tag line for the season is “the official airline of Santa Claus”. Lapland in northern Finland is a popular tourist destination that promises a Santa holiday.

Santa is known here as “Joulupukki”, which means 'Yule Buck'. Joulupukki first came about as an evil, goat-like creature. Far from giving gifts to the children, he demanded their good behaviour and struck terror in their hearts. So much that in December, there were pagan festivals to ward off the Joulupukki.

So, where did the iconic, ho-hoing, red-cloaked, white bearded Santa come from? From America. Where else? As I had mentioned in an earlier post, it was a marketing creation of Coca Cola, no less. (source)

This is what Coke’s official website claims :

“Starting in 1931, magazine ads for Coca-Cola featured St. Nick as a kind, jolly man in a red suit. Because magazines were so widely viewed, and because this image of Santa appeared for more than three decades, the image of Santa most people have today is largely based on our advertising.

Before the 1931 introduction of the Coca-Cola Santa Claus created by artist Haddon Sundblom, the image of Santa ranged from big to small and fat to tall. Santa even appeared as an elf and looked a bit spooky.”

So, though the Finns have clear evidence that the tradition originated in their country, alas, the red Santa is but a branded, American caricature of their Joulupukki.

Update 25/12/07 : Here's more on Santa and Coke. ( via Seth Godin)


Usha said...

So Santa was adopted and is a naturalised U.S. Citizen - that explains his passion for gifts!
Thanks for the informative post.
Merry christmas.
(how good were you this year? let us see what Santa gets you this year.)

Hip Grandma said...

That was useful information.Do these crazy Americans twist everything to their advantage?

Raj said...

Usha, I've been on my best behaviour ever, as befits a man who turned 50 this year. Hope Santa has noticed.

Raj said...

hip grandma : I won't say 'twisted', but re-branded and re-packaged maybe...