Santa Claus means different things for different audiences. An old man coming not from a hinterland, but a far-away land, where there is a lot of snow! Is he a delivery guy of an international brand of chocolate and eclectic gift items, which can only be shared during festivals?  Today, Father Christmas, popularly known as Santa Claus, has more to do with markets and shopping malls, an icon that showcases warmth and friendliness! There could be more…

But how are Santa and Christmas connected? Is there any connection at all? Is Santa in any way related to the Church, or to Jesus?

For us, whatever nation or market we’re in, Santa is the brand icon of the global market. He represents the persuasive spirit and the market-dominating corporate power.  He is powerful, magical, and all-pervasive.

An alien for Afro-Asian world: his identity

At the same time, he is an alien for the developing — Afro-Asian world. With the Afro-Asian countries increasingly hosting corporate entities headquartered in Europe-Americas, Santa too has entered the Afro-Asian markets.  He has not gone there as ‘Father Christmas’ but as an ambassador of leading brands.

Shopping malls in the Middle East, South Asia, Asia Pacific and Africa are all decorated in grand style with Santas everywhere, as the heroes of the season.  He represents customer aspirations, expectations, and happiness. Brands call upon shoppers to buy their products, with Santa’s endorsement.  

This new Santa’s identity is elitist and represents brands and institutions that are known for their  market dominance. His race, caste and language identities too resonate with the power of his social capital.  He is a White man and speaks a European language.

Efficient brand promoter

He is efficient in attracting new customers so quickly and supports brands in conquering the markets. Free gifts that he distributes help people feel-good. The virtue of love, care and sharing is communicated so effectively through the gifts that he distributes.

 However, for the poverty stricken third-world, how  once a year gift delivery make sense? With Santa’s arrival, local businesses that serve neighborhood markets across cities and suburbs gets wiped out, powerful brand kills local business and livelihood of the poor. Poverty and hunger grows side by side the deepening presence of global supply chains, endorsed by Santa.

Santa and Christmas

But has Santa got anything to do with Christmas, the birth of Jesus? Is he anyway connected to the Churches? 

For the Churches of today, institutions with corporate like structure and leadership with their  thriving commercially focused service businesses, in health and education sectors,    Santa is their brand ambassador too.  

Message of Christmas vs. Message of Santa/Church

There are significant variation in the message of Jesus Christ and that of the Churches. Values that are being represented through the style and functioning of the Churches and their contemporary leadership give us an impression that they operates on a Santa style.

Often they get unnoticed from  much of the regulations, which are mandatory for the corporate sector. They survive, grow and thrive despite violating rules and laws. While Santa is an alien, Churches too project themselves as an entity, which is far away from the local life and cultures.

Christmas and Santa in Kerala

While coming to Christmas in Kerala, Santa is much of a 20th-century avatar. However, he has conquered the Churches and Christians of Kerala, and he is their King today. He did not have a prominent presence even in the early eighties. He emerged dominant in the 1990s.

Interestingly, while Christmas is celebrated and Santa is being venerated, Christian Churches in Kerala are fighting a fierce battle, sometimes even in the streets, reasons for which, the public will never understand. Their fights and petty quarrels often go to global platforms too to gain an advantage back in Kerala. 

Message of Christmas

The message of Christmas  is Peace on Earth for the whole universe. The peace- the Shalom-that the Christ promises is not just limited to man’s circumstances, but a reality for the whole universe, here on earth and beyond, which  is not really reflected either in Christmas festivities or in the  icons like that of Santa.

The church is far away from Jesus Christ, the messenger of peace and love. Many might feel that Christian religion has left with no space Jesus Christ any more.

But often there are aspects of teachings of Jesus Christ being adopted and practiced in the secular world, including in business and corporate strategy context. Servant leadership approach to business management, social and environmental concerns that businesses reflects the essence of Christ’s teachings in real life contexts.

Jesus’s teachings are much relevant today, therefore, Christmas too. Born in an extremely poor circumstance, in a cow-shed, brought up as a carpenter by his father Joseph, acquired followers and thereafter some of them turning as disciples but not for the wealth, power and status attached to it, Jesus’s life is interesting for individuals  who would like contribute to humanity in a positive way.

It’s time to evaluate: if the message that the popular Santa  resonates with the real meaning of Christmas? Santa we see today is the brand icon of the global market, with its strong supply chain mechanism. The money, wealth and prosperity that neither the Church showcases nor the Santa seems to be representing will not solve the agonies of modern man. But the shared community life that Christ and his disciples lived through can. Without much money, wealth and richness they were happy, peaceful and indeed impactful! An image remaking of Santa is indeed needed.

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