It started with my spotting from my bus on my way today’s church service a group of Santas between Hampton Court and Bushy Park, SW London clearly gearing up for a run, and wondering aloud (i.e on Facebook) what the collective noun might be? It ended with a debate about who the holly is that red-suited guy anyway?
LOOK TO CINEMA, NOT COKE FOR THE REAL THING
A sack of Santas? A flypast of Father Christmasses? A cache of capitalists, suggested one cynic. No, no ,no! I protested. The real Santa is about giving, and bringing happiness to the children of the world. (Clearly I have been watching too many Christmas movies.)
But it’s true! Nicklas Julebukk (a hippyish Alexander Scheer) explains it to young German lad, Ben (Noah Kraus) in When Santa Fell To Earth (2011). Nicklas, who swaggers down a Bavarian village street in his long flapping red suede hooded coat is the last Santa Claus, his people and reindeers with them wiped out back in Yuleland by fearsome stormtrooper-like giant soldier nutcrackers. (It is to be noted that Nicklas also travels by a one reindeer-powered sleigh-cum-folky caravan which happens to be a lot bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. He is basically ‘the Doctor’ with presents.)
The evil Goblynsch and his henchmen want to wipe out youthful Julebukk since ‘Happy children’s not our game, parents’ money is our gain.’ Whereas, Nicklas and his elves – horror – create presents that are ‘not obtained through monetary gain’ but rather freely given.
The festival’s true meaning
Interestingly, even as we face the annual consumerist onslaught, cinema keeps reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas. And the figure of St Nicholas/ Sinterklaas/Father Christmas/Santa Claus/Kris Kringle – why, even the American Indians’ ‘Handsome Fellow’ (the one nugget of information and worthwhile reason for watching dog-centred straight-to-DVD The Adventures of Bailey: Christmas Hero (2012)) as well as Nicklas Julebukk – is so often the harbinger of the goodwill and generosity.
Now, Christians can be picky and point out that Jesus Christ is ‘the reason for the season’ as the cheesy church posters go (though pagans might delight in correcting them since Saturnalia goes a bit further back than that). But in the tinselly, glitter-decked, present-buying context of telly and adverts and shops it’s so difficult to escape at this time of year, that the central figure is still identified as representing goodness and kindness when he appears on film seems to me a positive thing. (Obviously, in movies such as Bad Santa (2003) and A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (2011), the Santas are sweary human store Santas rather than the Man Himself as in – spoiler alert! – A Miracle on 34th Street (1947 & 1994).)
Back and back and back
It is very easy to dismiss the big-bellied ho-ho-ho figure of Santa Claus as a consumerist ploy. That his jovial aura and scarlet suit have become inextricably linked with Coca Cola doesn’t help (however inaccurate the belief that the company’s 1930s Christmas advertising is the basis for Santa’s modern depiction).
I remember, as a child of the 1960s being taken to meet Father Christmas in Hamleys’ toy shop in Regent Street, and there’s an argument for Brits to reclaim and revive that more traditional name by which we knew him.
Meanwhile, it is notable that again and again we are reminded on screen that the fat fellow’s origins go back to St Nicholas. I loved the hippy otherworldly Santa of When Santa Fell to Earth because he combined both folk tradition (he had a wonderful embroidered white coat plus long fake beard for Christmas Day) and a knowing awareness of sci-fi lore. Notably, Arthur Christmas has family portraits which trace the lad’s ancestry right back to the Christian Saint.
For those with eyes to see, even mainstream contemporary Christmas movies aren’t convinced by Santa’s latterday diminished role as merely someone who helps shift product. They make it clear that he remains a far better man than that.