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).
- 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?
- Weihnachtsmann is a part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage. UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage includes the Kabuki theater of Japan, pottery-making of Botswana, and Fado music of Portugal.
- 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)
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