Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Czechs try to save Christmas with breastfeeding

I will return to the on-going campaign of support for health campaigners in the Philippines as they stand up to pressure from US and Swiss baby food companies and the US Chamber of Commerce.

But for today, news reaches me of another campaign against US pressure with a link to breastfeeding.

Though the shops in the UK have been gearing up for Christmas (25 December) since September, I don't start to think about it until December arrives. Today, 6 December, or yesterday is celebrated as Saint Nicholas's Day in some countries, when good children receive their presents. In the UK, Saint Nicholas, known as Santa Claus, comes the night before on Christmas Eve' to secretly leave presents.

The traditional image of Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, is a jolly, plump man with a white beard, twinkly eyes and a white-fur edged red suit. "Ho, ho, ho. Happy Christmas everybody" is his well-known catch phrase.

Yet this image is relatively new. The red-coated Santa who sits in a grotto in shopping centres to hear what children would like for Christmas is based on images produced by artist Haddon Sundblom for a Coca-Cola 1931 advertising campaign. You can find various histories of Santa's evolution on the internet. Here's one that looks impressively comprehensive to me (though it hasn't been peer-reviewed as far as I am aware):

This image of Father Christmas is spreading the world. In Brazil you find the red-coated Santa, snow and reindeers. I recall riding on a sweltering bus in the summer-heat of a Malawian December and hearing the familiar songs with sleigh bells and winter wonderlands.

In the Czech Republic it is a little different and the origins of Christmas as the birthday of Jesus Christ figure prominently, with the presents distributed by baby Jesus.

So, getting to the point I came in on, there is a movement in the Czech Republic to retain their traditional celebration of Christmas in the face of the red-coated Santa commercial extravaganza it has become.

Part of this involves an image of the Madonna (mother of Jesus) and Child, with the gift-giving Jesus appropriating Santa's clothing. Kind of stealing the spirit of Christmas back.

You can see the image here:

There is an explanation here:

The moral of this story?

Well, for me it is that cultures are forever developing and responding to outside influences. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, though it may be. Such interaction is part of belonging to the human family. It also shows that our traditions may not be as traditional as we may think. And behind them sometimes lies commercial marketing.

Oh, and breast is best, of course.

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