Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Etymology (and ethics) of Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas is upon us. In Northern Europe, this is the holiday where St. Nicholas comes for a visit on his donkey with his sidekick Père Fouettard (father whip!). While the former distributes gifts to the good, the latter, yes you guessed it, whips the bad little kids. I'll just say that those Alsatiens have a really warped sense of humor. Suzanne has been primed for this visit for a couple days now. So when she got to the nanny's this morning, she said, "Père Noël!" which she has taken as a translation for Santa Claus. The nanny told Suz that no, it was Saint Nicholas at which point I realized...I don't have an equivalent since we don't have the tradition of Saint Nicholas. But, in actuality, Santa Claus comes from Saint Nicholas, etymologically at least, and physically from Coca Cola. So, I took it upon myself to designate Saint Nicholas a different manifestation of jolly fellow, kind of like a split personality.

But this all got me thinking about the difference between Santa Claus and Father Christmas since the French Père Noël is our American Santa Claus. Is there one? And should I care? According to wikipedia, it's all the same. Santa=St. Nick=Kris Kringel. Being bilingual is confusing enough without the additional burden of all these holidays. And I haven't even mentioned the additional bagage of having an atheist Jewish mother who wants to transmit the culture.

So I will revert to Saturday Night Live to solve the impending identity crisis. Hannukah Harry to the rescue. It's just so inane that it comepensates for the confusion of the rest.


Jon said...

While you're at it, why now throw in "a Festivus for the rest of us"? That'd sure take the French off guard!

Anonymous said...

we just tell our kid that it's saint nicolas and when he asks where he's gone, i say he's gone back to turkey. with his pony, of course. the lillois don't seem to play up the whip so much -- the holiday is just an excuse for giving even more sweeties to the kids. my son thinks of saint nicolas as a strictly food holiday -- saint nicolas de pain d'epice from the market, saint nicolas from paul the bakery, and tomorrow he'll get sweeties from the city.

ooh, we have the charlie and lola that you folks are reading and boy is it a winner here.


Elisabeth said...

I went to Catholic school in the suburbs of Lille, and this guy dressed as a bishop (so, he really didn't look like Le Pere Noel) would show up on La Saint Nicolas and would give us an orange. Nothing better than a nice little dose of vitamin C to keep a kid happy!

Reb said...

Rachael, Charlie and Lola are great. I don't get tired of reading/watching them and Suzanne learns lots of English from them.

Elisabeth, my husband also associates St. Nicolas with candy so I guess food's a common association with the fellow. Food and whips.

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