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Better watch out, better not cry

Group wants Ježíšek, rather than Santa Claus, to come to town

By Hilda Hoy
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
December 13th, 2006

Petr Vlasák takes a bite out of foreign holiday traditions.

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 hhoy@praguepost.com


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Reader's comments:

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[18:47 14/12/2006] : Santa Claus can be more associated with "Mikulas", than "Jezisek".
Santa Claus is abbreviation of St. Nicolas.

George Skoda
George Skoda
Santa Clara, California, USA
[10:25 15/12/2006] : Santa Klaus to me symbolises all the crass consumerism and cheap global marketing rubbish that is so pervasive before Xmas. In fact, the image of Santa that we know now was invented by the Coca Cola company in order to boost its sales during winter. The thing was so succesful that the fat jolly coca cola employee dressed in red replaced the traditional image of Santa Klaus, that was either someone looking like the Czech Mikulas, or a kind of leprechaun.
I'm from South America, and have always found the idea of Santa in a hot summer pretty stupid. When I moved here a few years ago, I was glad to notice that Santa was almost nowhere to be seen, and I also liked the Jezizek thing, it's more magic, and the fact that he has no definite image makes it really difficult to commertialise. But things seem to have changed in the last couple of years. I'm seeing that coca cola employee more and more. It makes me mad, of course. It shows how little global corporations care about local traditions and custmos, and how they underestimate the consumer's intelligence. Every time I see an ad featuring the fat man in red I almost feel insulted. But I give credit to the Czechs. I don't think the concept of Santa will ever catch up because, as the wisdom of a child has put it, "I like Jezizek better, because if Santa was bringing the presents, I would have to wait until the morning to open them".
Go Jezizek!!!!!!
Max Bahnson
Prague
[07:22 17/12/2006] : St. Nicholas also has his day, it's a bit earlier, by two weeks. But, it's not so convenient when you're a global retailer trying to make sales without having to think up strategies for tiny little places like CZ. That would just be too much of a bother. And you'd have to have two seperate campaigns for holidays that are inconveniently close to one another: too distracting to maintin a desirable sales projection for each of them. The solution, then, is obvious: kill Jezisek and move St. Nick into the spot. Maybe the Coke icon could get bought out by Pepsi and get some blue worked into his color scheme.
Tor Ehler
Denver
[16:47 18/12/2006] : Blaq Mummy recently held an "Anti-Santa Insurgency" concert with Santa symbolically battled Jezisek onstage in a duel to the death. Santa had the weight advantage but Jezisek used his invisibility to finally defeat Santa. Concertgoers were invited onstage to eat Santa's red and green brains, which were in fact thick Czech puddings. In this way the cosmic line in the sands of time were drawn: The Santa stops here. see www.blaqmummy.andmuchmore.com
Rev.Feedback
Praha -1
[20:44 19/12/2006] : Reverend: Pudding? Next time, please have some vanilla one, as that red brain tasted awful (but eating that bastard´s brain made up for it).

I hope I won´t offend anyone - but I dislike certain US culture growing roots here. US sitcoms are demented (and people like them), advertisement is getting longer too (five years ago I laughed about thought of 10 minutes ad in TV. Now it´s reality). I hate Coca-cola seas, and hippocratic people smiling around in very false way, only because their boss told them, as it is modern in US (or people who trained them told them that - and they were from US) - my father is marketing expert, so he does know such things. I dislike Santa - Christmas are becoming marketing matter - Phrase "happy and calm Christmas" is more and more a phrase instead of reality. Streets are christmas oriented since 9-10th month. Part of it is I am getting older, but part is, that Christmas generally start to lose its "romance".

What bugs me the most is probably spreading hippocritism - and I am not sure if it is problem caused by US culture - but it IS a problem. Many aspects of US things here are hippocratic - so I think there is some connection, but who can be sure.

But it is rather general problem, not only Christmas - people are becoming mindless drones - zombies if you like blindly slaving for a bit of money. I see it all around and let me tell you it sucks! When I was at my friend´s house, and he broke a vase, his mother told him "Hey, do you know how much did it cost?" - I would think that more important is if the vase was nice. But more and more often, I can hear people measuring beauty by price. I even heard some boy shouting(after Christmas last year) something like "No, you are liars, you don´t love me, you bought me gifts only for $150.

People slowly lose their minds - they get more information than they can handle. They become puppets in hands of showbussiness leaders, politicians and big corporations. On the other hand, it seems like natural evolution, although I don´t like it - and I don´t accept it, it seems like feeding herd of sheeps. And sheeps like to be fed. Certain part of "elite" makes a lot of money by that - and it makes them happy. There is probably very slim chance of any change.

Santa is one of factors contributing to this evolution, and as such (as well as for above stated reasons), I don´t like him.

Btw. surely visit next Blaq Mummy´s concert - if you download mp3 of Blaq mummy theme and think it is very good (well, it is :-)), multiply it by three and you have Mummy Live.
J.Tomek
Prague 2
[21:45 20/12/2006] : People should remind themselves that they have a christian country and that Christmas is about Jesus. If they want to celebrate Santa then they should do it on December 6. The Chechs successfully withstood the eastern cultural invasion and they should act likewise agaist the influences from the West. Good luck!
Leonard Herboczek
Bel Air, USA
[02:35 29/12/2006] : I live in the US and have become increasingly frustrated by the commercialism I encounter more of each year as the holiday approaches. When I walk into stores before Halloween, and already see Christmas items for sale I feel myself already getting frustrated and tortured by the over zealot advertisement of Christmas with a total loss of the true meaning behind it. My childhood in a Czech-US family held many traditions passed on by my great grandparents and grandparents. These seem to have become lost as time has gone on, and my efforts to instill them in my children have been battled by my husband's family and their apparent tradition of only recognizing the gift and the cost of the item. Luckily my children assit me every year in adopting a number of families through my office, gathering donations for them, and assisting in delivering the items. Through these acts I try to have more meaningful traditions, and the true meaning of Christmas, live on. I sincerely hope that the "power of Santa" does not overtake the beautiful traditions of a true Czech Christmas.
J. Paulson
Racine, WI USA
 

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