Ho, ho, no?
It’s December 1st and I’m wandering through my little Czech town to soak up the Christmas cheer. In a store, I hear Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas” playing as I stroll through aisles of glitter and sparkle. To my left are rolls of elegant lace ribbons, as dainty as snowflakes. To my right are seasonal dish towels, embroidered with reindeer motifs. In front of me are mugs and napkins with Santa’s likeness printed on them. It’s just like home. And that’s the problem…
The Czech Republic doesn’t have Santa Claus.
Let’s be honest, there’s some ambiguity surrounding the origin of the revered man in red. Not many people know how the legend of Santa came to be. To start, what’s his real name? Off the top of my head, there’s Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, St. Nick, and Father Christmas. In reality, these variations all derived from St. Nicholas. It was he who became the subject of the different legends celebrated around the world today.
Major historical events, including political revolutions, religious reformation, and colonization, all contributed to the evolution of St. Nicholas. Moreover, as George Bowler explains in the article “From St. Nicholas to Santa Claus: the surprising origins of Kris Kringle,” writers in the early 19th century “[took] the magical gift-bringing of St. Nicholas, stripped him of any religious characteristics, and dressed this Santa in the furs of those shaggy Germanic gift bringers.”
The Czech Republic recognizes St. Nicholas (Mikuláš) along with an angel and a devil who accompany him on December 5th to reward good children and punish bad children. Good children are given sweets. Some bad children are given potatoes or coal (sounds familiar, right?) and others—the worst children—are put in sacks to be taken to hell.
On Christmas, which is celebrated on December 24th in the Czech Republic, the Baby Jesus (Ježíšek) brings gifts instead of Santa, as explained by Honest Guide vlogger Janek Rubeš in Honest Guide’s “How To Celebrate Christmas As Czechs.” No one knows what Baby Jesus looks like and it’s tradition for everyone to be free to imagine him differently.
So, you probably won’t find Christmas tree ornaments of Baby Jesus in stores but you will find Santa decking Czech halls. Yes, we live in a globalized society. Is this justification for the dilution and sacrifice of cultures around the world? Perhaps, international retailing is to blame for world-wide Westernization. Whatever the reason, it’s important to preserve, carry on, and share the magic of Christmas in every form it takes. After all, the more, the merrier!
This week, I challenge you to read about Christmas traditions from other parts of the world. Here’s a starting point: “14 Christmas Traditions from Around the World That You’ll Want to Steal.”