Tuesday, 24 December 2013

For Sale: Santa

So who owns Santa Claus? A museum, a government, a corporation? The heritage of the red-coated, soda-swilling, pot-bellied, jovial gent would appear to be open for debate. It's the third week of December, so he's the man of the moment.

It starts with a proposal by a German museum to have Father Christmas listed by UNESCO as an endangered institution; is followed by the declaration of the Canadian government that his official residence sits on their continental shelf that extends under the North Pole; and is temporarily concluded by the urban myth that Coca-Cola is responsible for the whole mess.

He wasn't always that ubiquitous character plucked from central casting. His lineage is long and contorted. Two roots and several branchlets have grown to create the present persona. Odin is the pagan root, the apocryphal precursor; his eight legged flying horse, Sleipner, being transmuted into reindeer and sleigh roos. Yet early representations are variable. In some he's young, in others he's gaunt, others downright menacing. By the latter eighteenth century, artists are depicting both Norse Odin and Old Santa with interchangeable props and features. The grey beard, the luxurious whiskers, the portly belly, a stemmed pipe, a blue coat.

The second root, one only marginally younger, is the Christian anchor. The fourth century Greek Bishop of Myra, who, amongst other activities, is attributed with donating and distributing the dowries for three destitute daughters whose potential future would have been prostitution, by dropping bags of coins down their chimneys and into a drying sock on the eve of their coming of age. Later, he's sanctified as Saint Nicolas.

Then in the mid thirties, Cola Santa materialises in his latest and present incarnation, spearheading an advertising campaign. Gone the blue coat, the grey beard and the tobacco pipe. Now hirsute in snow-white whiskers and clutching his 'find in the dark' bottle'. It's this very product penetration that has prompted the Germans to request a preservation order. They claim Father Christmas as Theirs. Whereas the Canadians want his zip code before he plants a 'nodding donkey' in his own backyard and starts pumping hydrocarbons. Despite all these political and corporate machinations, our man is busy down the street offering 'audiences' at the local chemist's shop, where he's dispensing dispensations in the form of a red and white pixie hat, branded on the furry brim with that all too recognisable patented script.

That brand, that can be measured in the trillions of dollars, but can't prevent the occasional glitch. The jolly rotund gent, is now so entrenched in the psyche of the populace that when the oxymoronic 'Milton Keynes Winter Wonderland' employed two skinny youths to entertain their toddlers in a grotty grotto, the parents raised a riot and the event had to close. So much for traditional reenactment and historical accuracy.

For Sale: To the Highest Bidder....."Santa Claus - The Brand". Asking Price: $1.6 trn.