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16 Dec, 2019 12:50

Age-old Christmas traditions replaced by modern agenda – as Santa gets a makeover!

Age-old Christmas traditions replaced by modern agenda – as Santa gets a makeover!

Father Christmas, also known as Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas or Kris Kringle, dates back almost 2,000 years, but it seems that it's time for a rethink of everything in 2019 as a modern agenda takes a subversive twist on tradition.

Santa's modern design was created in the late 1800's by American artist Thomas Nast, in a collection of sketches for Harper's magazine. In the 1930's good old Coca Cola popularized his distinctive red-and-white costume and he became the western emblem of festive cheer. But, eighty years later, that archetype is under threat as, heading Down Under, a day-care center has other ideas when it comes to Christmas symbolism.

The alternative venue in Melbourne invited parents to a special picnic event featuring a… "Sustainability Pirate." More yarr harr than ho ho ho, in addition to getting rid of any mainstream commercial icons, the center asked for all food to be organic (featuring a food-swap scheme), said no alcohol would be allowed and eco transport would be preferred. How wonderfully… festive. Not.

The "Santa-free non-Christmas party" was supported by some but mostly mocked online.

Sacrificing festive cheer for cringeworthy climate activism is very 2019, but for decades now various activists have tried to make Santa more relevant – or have recruited him (or her, or them) to push their agenda.

The fight for female Santas is going strong. Although women used to play Father Christmas during the Second World War, feminist ideology and the man in red didn't have a loud clash until 1995. Donna Underwood was thrust into the spotlight when she was hired to portray Santa for a local mall in West Virginia. People complained, she was fired, sued, and lost.

It seems the battle for a non-binary Christmas icon is gathering steam. According to a new 2019 UK/US poll by GraphicSprings, 27 percent recently said that Santa is worthy of such veneration and should be rebranded as a woke-tastic female or should be gender neutral.

Disney wants in, too; its latest Christmas comedy film 'Noelle' (which didn't make it to cinemas but was shown on Disney+) has Anna Kendrick stepping into Santa's shoes. Review website Rotten Tomatoes states "The always-charming Anna Kendrick does her best, but Noelle's progressive take on a timeless tale is unfortunately subdued."

In the fight for racial equality Santa was conscripted by the civil rights movement in 1960s America. The 1970s onwards saw only a few retailers daring to hire more ethnically diverse Santas (including Macy's flagship store in New York). Most caused mass outrage and hit the headlines for the wrong reason.

Having a black Father Christmas is still a contentious subject. In 2016 the Mall of America made history by hiring its first-ever Black Santa. Larry Jefferson was hired to play to 'Santa Larry,' and said that he received praise from all ages regardless of their racial and ethnic background; "My lines are filled with kids and filled of diversity. Black kids, white kids, Asian kids, Hispanic kids, they all come to see Santa." The local newspaper reported otherwise… and had to turn off the comment section of its article due to so many negative and racist remarks.

In another example, this year two London-based moms have been praised in the media for launching a line of black-empowerment-themed Christmas decorations – figures of a dark-skinned Santa and angels with afros included. They say their goal is to create a better representation for their children at a time that "should be all about family and bringing people together." With their new spin on decorations, they believe that in 2019 it's time to "reinvent the wheel."

In short, should it really matter if we have a black, Hispanic, Asian or female Santa? Given that the fictional character was designed simply to make Christmas fun for the family, does it really matter what's underneath his (or her) signature red outfit? Or should we stand strong against those wanting a change in casting, seeing as Santa is based (albeit loosely) on a specific person/character from history who has been a white male (or at least has been depicted as such) for over a millennium?

Maybe having a Santa to represent all in society is a good idea, as thorny an issue as it is – but maybe we should draw a line at replacing him with something as painfully strained as a cringeworthy Sustainability Pirate? Perhaps, this time, a return to tradition, might be easier for all?

Pass me the sherry!

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.