Santa Claus, as we know him today, is based on a fourth century Christian bishop, now known as Saint Nicholas, who was legendary for his generosity. The most famous legend is that Nicholas heard about a family who was so poor, they considered selling their three daughters. To save the girls from a life of prostitution, Nicholas tossed three bags of gold onto the family doorstep, thus providing dowries that would enable the girls to marry.
Saint Nicholas is thus considered a protector of children. To celebrate this, a tradition emerged where children received special gifts on his feast day. When this custom was brought to America, it became associated with Christmas and the name of the giver changed to Santa Claus.
According to Wikipedia, the first appearances of Santa Claus wearing what we recognise today as the Santa suit, were drawn by Thomas Nast and appeared in Harper’s Weekly in the mid to late 1800s. Fast forward to 1931, Haddon Sundblom portrayed Santa in the red suit as part of an advertising campaign for Coca-Cola. It was this work that standardised the way in which Santa was portrayed from this point forward.
This year, Graphic Springs, a logo design company, invited suggestions on modernising Santa from 400 respondents from the UK and US. A selection of these suggestions were then voted upon by over 4000 people from the UK and US. The most popular suggestions were included in a graphic re-branding of the holiday hero.
Interestingly, media didn’t mind the thought of Santa going on a diet, using Amazon Prime, wearing skinny jeans and trainers, riding a hoverboard or in a flying car, or having tattoos and an iPhone. Google “Rebranding Santa” and the one point most articles picked up on was that some 27% voted in favour of making Santa female or gender neutral. See this post and this post as examples.
As the comments on this brief statement suggest there are plenty of people who are offended by the possibility that Santa could be portrayed as anything other than male. Some defend this with reminders of the ancient connection to Saint Nicholas.
It’s already been done…
In Santa Baby (2006) and Santa Baby 2 (2009), the Claus’ daughter, Mary, is called upon to save Christmas after her father takes ill and, in the sequel, wants to retire. I suspect there may be other movies among the plethora of Christmas tales in which Mrs. Claus or another female plays the leading role.
What do you think?
Should consideration be given to re-branding Santa for the new millennia? If so, what would you change? Are there aspects of our understanding of Santa that must remain consistent (like gender)? Why or why not? We would love to hear from you.
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