Face to Face – Father Christmas
The following article appeared in the Ely Ensign in December 2005 on page 26.
This month we sent our reporter to do an undercover interview and get behind the beard of the man who has brought so much joy to young children over the centuries – Father Christmas.
Q. I’m curious to know what persuaded you to take on this job in the first place?
A. Ho! Ho! I believe it’s a vocation rather than a job. I don’t look upon it as something I chose to do, but rather as something that chose me.
Q. What do you prefer to be called? Santa? Father Christmas? Papa Noel? St Nicholas?
A. I think I like St Nicholas better. Although last year one little boy called me Satan. He couldn’t spell, you know.
Q. So have you always been a celeb?
A. Well, I kept a relatively low profile for the first fifteen centuries. But I suppose I got off to a good start. I became Bishop of Myra (in modern day Turkey) at the age of thirty.
Q. So how did all this fame come about?
A. People say I’m a generous man and children are very important to me. The word got around and the work began to grow like wildfire. I went over with the “new world” colonisers to America. In those days I still wore my mitre and had my bishop’s staff.
Q. And what happened next?
A. Well, it was the Dutch who started to change thing , you know. They call me Sinterklass. The settlers were away from home and they wanted someone to cheer them up. So they dressed me up in knee breeches and a broad-brimmed hat and put about this story of me travelling on horseback across the sky.
Q. Ah, yes, I’m beginning to see how you got into the Christmas present delivery business.
A. That wasn’t all. This academic theologian, Clement Moore Clark, gave me the idea. Back in 1822 he wrote a poem and floated the idea that I rode on a sleigh drawn by reindeer and popped down chimneys to deliver the Christmas pressies. And from then on it all happened very quickly.
Q. And so that’s how Sinterklass became Santa Claus?
A. Well, not entirely. This American cartoonist, around the end of the nineteenth century I recall, gave me a complete makeover in the pictures he drew for Harper’s Weekly. That’s where they got the idea that I hailed from the North Pole.
Q. So when did your first big break come?
A. Well, it was in the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln needed to boost the morale of the Union troops and he asked this cartoonist to dress me up a bit – star-spangled jacket, striped pants and a cap. I was never really comfortable in that gear. I think it distanced me from the children. You understand, my mission is to live out the Christmas message of goodwill to all people – and especially children.
Q. You were taking a bit of a risk with this media hype?
A. Well, yes. At one stage it was all getting a bit out of hand. Then right out of the blue I got a very attractive offer from the makers of Coca-Cola. Ho! Ho!
Q. What did they say?
A. Well, sales of their cold fizzy drink had plummeted in the winter months of the early 1930s. So they commissioned me to give a massive Christmas marketing boost to Coca-Cola as a children’s drink. The ad men dressed me up in Coca-Cola’s corporate colours, red and white. And sine then they’ve been redesigning my outfit and splashing my picture all over the place.
Q. How do you feel about that?
A. Well, its a mixed blessing, you know. Coca-Cola even had the gall to celebrate my 65th birthday in 1996. you and most of your readers of the in Ely Diocese know I was born at the end of the third century and have dedicated my life to serving God ever since. Still, what’s wrong with a little bit of harmless fantasy? Look into a child’s eyes and see the joy and magic of it all.
Q. So do you mean your job is simply to entertain people and remind them of the excitement from giving and receiving Christmas presents?
A. If you think I’m a marketing executive for the toy industry, then you’ve got it all wrong. I’m not Father Boxing Day, or Father Buy-me-a-Playstation. My job is to remind people that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ in the little town of Bethlehem.
Q. So what advice would you give a young wannabe?
A. Keep you integrity. Be yourself. Never be tempted to become your public image. Remember that one good deed can have a profound effect. I hope the simple things I did as a young man will continue to inspire others to do even better things.
Q. And finally, what’s your favourite Bible reading?
A. I think it has to be the Christmas story.