- UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization) maintains a closely guarded list of “World Heritage Sites.” Read our section on UNESCO’s Culture Sector for a brief introduction to this project. UNESCO divides world heritage in six categories: cultural and natural; tangible and intangible; and movable and immovable. Into what category does “Weihnachtsmann,” the German Father Christmas, fall? What other examples of world heritage would fall into this category?
- According to the Telegraph article, what makes Weihnachtsmann distinct from St. Nicholas and Santa Claus? How do these differences reflect cultural and political changes in Europe and the West?
- Weihnachtsmann is a transitional figure between the older holiday figure, St. Nicholas, and the popular contemporary figure, Santa.
- Nicholas is a saint, a former Greek bishop. Nicholas is credited as “the wonderworker” and responsible for many miracles and good deeds.
- Weihnachtsmann is a Protestant figure created during the Reformation, when German Christians were distancing themselves from the Catholic and Orthodox emphasis on saint-worship. Weihnachtsmann is similar to St. Nicholas—an older man with a long white beard and cloak. However, he does not wear a bishop’s mitre (hat) or carry a crook, or staff.
- Santa Claus is largely an American figure invented in the late 19th century and 20th centuries. He resembles a fatter, happier Weihnachtsmann and his most famous representation was created to sell a product.
- Felicitas Höptner, director of the German Christmas Museum in Rothenburg, says Weihnachtsmann is “under threat” from the American Santa Claus—tellingly, a creation of a German immigrant to the U.S., the illustrator Thomas Nast. Take a look at our media spotlight “Santa Claus in Camp,” which analyzes one of Nast’s earliest depictions of Santa Claus. Take a closer look at this image and work through the questions in the “Questions” tab.
- How was this Santa Claus an intensely politicized image?
- Look at Nast’s image and compare it with the sober Weihnachtsmann above. What elements of Weihnachtsmann do you think Nast’s Santa put “under threat”?
- St. Nicholas, the oldest version of the Christmas holiday figure, was a bishop of Myra, in what is today Turkey. Why do you think Turkey has not aggressively pursued a UNESCO listing for St. Nicholas of Myra or his associations? This view of Turkey on our MapMaker Interactive might give you a hint.
- Although it may apply for such a UNESCO listing soon, Turkey is a Muslim nation. While St. Nicholas and other Christmas traditions are respected and celebrated in Turkey, Christians are a minority community.
- Germany lays claim to Father Christmas, warns traditional holiday character ‘under threat’ from Santa Claus (news.nationalpost.com)
- Germany moves to claim to ‘under threat’ Father Christmas (telegraph.co.uk)