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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

BEING FATHER CHRISTMAS (article first published : 2002-12-26)

Being Father Christmas at Gateway - or I suspect anywhere – is, or would be, quite an experience. I have worked out quite an elaborate routine based upon the difference between Father Christmas and Santa Claus. If kids say to me that they have just seen me at another shopping centre, or have just seen a film about me etc. then I say "Ah! You must have seen my older brother Santa Claus, I'm Father Christmas".

If they press me further and ask "What's the difference?" I say: "Oh! About 2800 years." By this time the parents have got involved: "What do you mean?" says Mother. "Well, Bishop Nicklaus was a Catholic Bishop in Norway about 3000 years ago,” I reply. “He rewarded all the good children of his diocese at Christmas time with printed religious tracts – the first Christmas presents. When he was made a saint after he died he was remembered as Saint Nicklaus.

“This later became Santa Nicklaus and finally Santa Claus. When the tradition spread to the United States there was some opposition to the “Santa" part as this linked this figure with Catholicism (in a predominantly Protestant country) - so with typical pragmatism the Americans re-invented and typically commercialised the image and called it Father Christmas - at which point also the hood disappeared although the red and white robes of the bishop remained."

By this time the parents are either asleep. glazed or sometimes actually fascinated. Most just mumble "Oh!" and shuffle off into the crowds with wide eyes and uncertain step. This works for me in other ways too. Hefty rugger-bugger types come floating by and call out "HO! HO! HO!" To which I reply: "NO! NO! NO! - that's Santa Claus, I'm Father Christmas" - Looks of stupefaction .

Cynical teenagers call out " We haven't even got a chimney - so how you gonna deliver the presents hey?" To which I reply: "It's Santa Claus that does the HO! HO! HO! bit and the coming down the chimney bit - I'm Father Christmas from America and I'm a master locksmith. I come straight through your front doors."- Looks of suspicion - weird man!

The funny-funny fathers who are 9m tall and 9m wide who want to sit on my lap for a joke - "Can I sit on your lap Father Christmas (giggle, smirk, guffaw)?" "Of course you can but only if you promise not to wet your pants like you did last year!" (uneasy laugh)

"Your beard isn't real!" -"Well of course it isn't! Who in their right minds wouldn't shave in this weather - but I've got to wear a false beard to keep up the image that the capitalist marketing strategy has forced upon me." (silence from every quarter)

"Oh yeah? So how do you manage to deliver so many presents to so many kids all over the world?" "How many Santa Clauses have you seen in how many stores and shopping malls this season? A few I bet - and this is just here. All over the world there are hundreds of thousands - they are my helpers but they are all Santa Clauses, I'm the Father Christmas!"

"Where are your Reindeer?" - "On the roof eating the fungus that grows there propagated by the combined action of the spores in bird droppings and the salt sea air"… "Is there a Mother Christmas?" - "Yes, of course. She is called Mary. That's why at this time of the year we always call her saying 'Mary Christmas!'" … "Why can’t you give presents to naughty children?" - "Union rules. If children are naughty, parents send me an email to fc@northpole.com and then pull the delivery note - no delivery - no presents on Christmas day!" … “I'm an atheist- so I don't believe in you or anything else" - "Cogito ergo sum ... and if I don't who is talking to you?" … "I cant accept a sweet from you because I'm Jewish" - "Well I'm half Jewish, so accept half a sweet!" … "Don't give my child a sweet. We are Muslim and we reject your attempt to influence our children - winning them over with cheap sweets!" - "I see you are pushing your child around in a Pedigree Pram. That is manufactured in America in a factory owned by a Jewish family. You reject my gesture of goodwill but compromise your case somewhat through being victim to American commercial imperialism." … "Why has Rudolph got a red nose?" - " Hayfever".

Another week of this and I'll be able to leave off the corny ripostes and weak quidities and reach out for normality again,” says Dennis Schauffer in conclusion.




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