As Christmas approaches, with increasing pressure to incorporate a Christmas theme into lessons, what better time to consider the theme of Santa Claus? Here in the UK we think of Santa Claus as a toy distributer, who mans a sleigh led by eight flying reindeer, and delivers presents to children on the evening of the 24th December. But there are many rich global myths, traditions and histories surrounding this figure. We hope these ideas give teachers the final bit of inspiration they need to keep their students engaged until the Christmas holiday arrives!
Curriculum links: Literacy, History, Media studies, RE, Geography
Did Coca-Cola create Santa Claus?
Many people claim that the modern image of Santa Claus (fat, jolly, red suit, white-bearded man) was created by a Coca Cola advertising campaign. Haddon Hubbard Sundblom was the artist who drew the original images of Santa Claus for the Coca-Cola Company in the 1930’s. Given that Coca-Cola is the world’s biggest drinks company, and the drink itself is the world’s best-known and most valuable brand, this image of Santa Claus has spread far and wide. If we ask students to draw an image of Santa Claus, this is likely to be the image that they will come up with. How do they know this image? Where do they see these types of pictures? You can find more details and information about the influence that Coca-Cola has had on the image of Santa Claus on the Coca-Cola website.
A Google search on Santa images advertising Coke can help you ask ‘where might you have seen these pictures?’ ‘who might have seen these pictures?’ ‘why is this image of Santa Claus now a global image?’
So who is Saint Nicholas?
Santa Claus is based on the historial figure of Saint Nicholas, who was a Bishop, and part of the Roman Catholic tradition. He is celebrated on Saint Nicholas’ eve (5th December) or on the morning of the 6th December in the Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France. Originally, the feast celebrates the name day of Saint Nicholas. In some places he arrives in the middle of November and moves about the countryside, visiting schools and homes to find out if children have been good. In other places he comes in the night and finds carrots and hay for his horse or donkey along with children’s wish lists. Small treats are left in shoes or stockings so the children will know he has come. More information about Saint Nicholas can be found on the St Nicholas Center website.
Saint Nicholas was born around the year 270. He was the Bishop of Myra, a town in what is now Turkey. He earned a reputation as an anonymous gift giver. Since his death, Nicholas has been canonized as the patron saint of children. This YouTube video clip explores Myra in Turkey, and the places Saint Nicholas visited.
Santa Claus in Holland – potentially a sensitive issue…
In Holland, Sinterklaas (Santa Claus / Saint Nicholas) appears a lot earlier than he arrives in the UK for Christmas. He arrives in November, and delivers present to Dutch children on the evening of 6th December. Traditionally, Sinterklaas (still represented as Saint Nicholas dressed in a Bishop’s robe) arrives on a boat from Spain. Today, many people still visit the Amsterdam or Rotterdam docks to greet him, and photos and information on the 2012 celebrations can be seen online.
Most controversially, Sinterklaas arrives with his helper called Black Peter (Zwarte Piet) who wears Spanish clothes. Black Pete has long been part of the folklore of Holland (and also Belgium), and has a similar role as Santa’s elves – giving out sweets and presents. You can see a YouTube film of the arrival of Santa and Black Pete in Rotterdam – watching this could provoke discussion with older students (KS3-5) on issues of race – what do your students think of Black Pete? The following articles and blog posts could also contribute to the discussion of this tradition:
Thirteen ‘Santas’ in Iceland!
Christmas in Iceland is an interesting experience as you can expect no fewer than 13 Icelandic Santa Clauses! They are called jólasveinar (‘Yule Lads’). Their parents are Grýla, a mean old woman who drags off naughty children, and Leppalúði, who is not quite as mean. The origin of these ‘Santas’ is centuries old, and each one has its own name, character and role. Nowadays during Christmas in Iceland, their function is to come to town bearing gifts and candy. The first jólasveinn arrives 13 days before Christmas and then the others follow, one each day. After Christmas, they leave one by one… so the Icelandic Christmas season lasts 26 days.
Find out about the different ‘yule lads’ – they can be seen on the Fact Fixx website. Perhaps smaller pupils would enjoy creating their own set of ‘yule lads’ (and lasses) with different jobs and personalities?
Santa Claus – a reflection from Zambia
These ideas are taken from a blog called ‘Inside Zambia’, and a post on Santa Claus in Africa.
The blogger has interviewed several Zambians to ask them what they thought about Santa Claus. To some of them, Christmas is still, in its purest form, a celebration of the birth of Christ. The blogger was surprised that many of the people he spoke to were repulsed at the idea of Santa and wanted nothing to do with him. He says: “the average Zambian looks at magic and people who fly as a common, real-life practice”. So when they hear about a jolly, fat man that can fly, they associate him with black magic. Some of the Zambians’ responses to Santa Claus were: “If he practises magic then he is not good”; and “I wouldn’t trust a man who could fly”. This is just one blogger’s opinion of people’s perceptions of Santa Claus in Zambia, but it’s an interesting view of how people in rural communities might think, if they have limited access to the media and new ideas. How would you describe Santa Claus to someone who had never heard about him before?
To find out more about how Christmas is celebrated in different African countries, check out Send a Cow’s Christmas in East Africa resource, which has some facts about Christmas in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.
A few more Santa- and Christmas-related resources and websites
Norad Tracks Santa Norad is a US-Canadian defence organisation which also tracks Santa’s journey around the world!
Northpole.com includes activities for teachers and students
The History of Santa Claus on the History of Christmas website
Santa’s Carbon Footprint – an infographic which could give rise to some classroom debate…
Interactive Christmas around the World Advent Calender Quiz on Woodland Junior School website
Santa Games (not really global learning, just a fun games featuring Christmas and Santa!)
A Christmas Made in China – YouTube clip which explores where a lot of your presents might come from
Finally, we thought both teachers and students might enjoy this BBC News story about the ‘caganer’ – a traditional figure in Catalonian crib scenes, who hides in the corner doing his business…!
Wishing you all a Happy Christmas from Think Global!
The picture at the top of the page is With Hope and Happiness… by Kohei314 on Flickr.
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