Weihnachtsmann is Coming to Town

WORLD

A German museum has applied for Father Christmas (Weihnachtsmann) to be added to the official UNESCO Cultural Heritage List. (Telegraph)

Use our resources to better understand how the U.S. claimed its own Father Christmas (Santa Claus).

This hardworking Father Christmas from an early 20th-century German postcard is a decent representation of the dour Weihnachtsmann character a German museum is seeking to protect. Illustration by Julius Thiele, courtesy Santa Claus Preis

This hardworking Father Christmas from an early 20th-century German postcard is a decent representation of the dour Weihnachtsmann character a German museum is seeking to protect.
Illustration by Julius Thiele, courtesy Santa Claus Preis

Discussion Ideas

  • 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”?

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