January 20th, 2007
Better watch out, better not cryGroup wants Ježíšek, rather than Santa Claus, to come to town
By Hilda Hoy
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
December 13th, 2006
If David König could have his way, Santa Claus would ho-ho-ho his way right out of the Czech Republic.
For many, the jolly fat man in the bright-red suit is the hallmark of Christmas cheer. But, for König and his colleagues at the Creative Copywriters Club (CCC), an informal group of advertising professionals, Santa Claus is a symbol of crass marketing at its worst, a threat to cherished Czech holiday traditions.
"Czech Christmases are intimate and magical. All that Santa stuff seems to me like cheap show business," König said. "I'm not against Santa himself. I'm against Santa in my country only."
He and his colleagues were so aggravated by the Santas popping up around town that they started their own Web site at www.anti-santa.cz to lay out their grievances. Since the site went live last month, scores of anti-Santa sympathizers mostly fellow Czechs, but also some foreigners, including two from as far away as Hong Kong have contacted the CCC to offer support, König said.
If anti-Santa voices grow loud enough, retailers and advertisers will hopefully start listening, he said.
"We have our own traditions beautiful ones. Santa is an American and British tradition, and I respect it," he said. "But I ask ... international shopping chains and retail companies to be so kind as to respect Czech traditions as well."
The night before Christmas
In the Czech tradition, presents are delivered on Christmas Eve not by Santa Claus but by Ježíšek, which translates as Baby Jesus. That evening, after a traditional meal of fried carp and potato salad, children wait anxiously in a separate room. Ježíšek magically delivers the presents, a small bell is rung to signal he's left, and the children rush in to unwrap their haul.
Unlike Santa, with his iconic red suit and wooly beard, there's no one definitive image for Ježíšek.
"Everyone visualizes him differently. He's only in your head, in your imagination, and nobody can steal him from you," said Petr Vlasák, another CCC member who helped found the Web site. "That's part of the magic."
As a child, Vlasák let his imagination run wild: "I thought Ježíšek was a man in a white dress, with wings. I thought he had special powers, and could fly through my window."
The problem, CCC members say, is that as the Czech Republic has become more Westernized, Santa has become so ubiquitous that he and Ježíšek have become conflated.
For König, the last straw came this October: While reading a Czech Christmas book to his 3-year-old daughter, he was horrified to find that the bearded, red-suited, Santa-hat-wearing character in the story was named Ježíšek and Baby Jesus himself liked to cry ho-ho-ho.
"Is that fat man Ježíšek?" his daughter asked. Soon after, www.anti-santa.cz was born.
Visitors to the site express all sorts of beefs with Santa. Some are opposed to globalization or commercialism, while others oppose how he's helped turn a religious holiday into one that's largely secular.
During communism, the Soviets imported the Russian figure of Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, who, like Santa, wears red and has a white beard. But Czechs never warmed to the idea, and Ježíšek remained the Christmas symbol of choice.
"They were trying to make us believe in Santa under the name [Grandfather Frost] in the past. ... Let's not give up now!" wrote "Inas" on the Web site's discussion forum.
"No, no, no to Santa. Long live our great imaginary Baby Jesus!" echoed user "Matej Soucek."
While support like this is appreciated, the ideas aren't always in tune with the CCC's. Because members work in advertising, they partly oppose Santa on professional grounds.
"The easiest solution for any advertiser to is to use Santa Claus for Christmas ads," said Vlasák. "But I think they should try harder."
But their main motivation, he says, comes from their kids: "I want my kids to get their gifts from Ježíšek. Firstly, because of tradition. ... And secondly, to preserve that imaginary world. Let kids play and imagine."
Naďa Černá contributed to this report.
Hilda Hoy can be reached at email@example.com
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