Christmas Backlash: Saving St. Nicholas from Santa Claus
They may taste the same, but the differences are huge. A woman in southern Germany is doing her best to increase the profile of St. Nicholas. Santa has almost completely taken over. Where to start? The supermarket shelves.
Silvia Englberger with her horde of St. Nicks.
Now, though, St. Nicholas has some allies -- and they are doing what they can to win back some territory from the trans-Atlantic Santa invasion. Where to start? On Santa's territory, of course: the store shelves.
Cherished bit of culture
On the front lines of this battle stands Silvia Englberger, a 39-year-old from Osterhofen not far from Passau in southern Germany. She and her Catholic Church women's group were discussing Christmas traditions recently -- and bemoaning the fact that supermarkets in Bavaria were almost St. Nicholas-free zones. Englberger resolved to do something about it.
"We have such nice stories and legends here about St. Nicholas," Englberger told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It's concerning that the next generation won't have the opportunity to enjoy this tradition. There needs to be a choice. All those who believe in Santa Claus should have him. But we can't just allow St. Nicholas to be forgotten."
By her own reckoning, Santa Claus has been on the march in southern Germany for at least the last 10 years. His bag full of toys and Hollywood appeal has made it difficult for the stodgy old St. Nicholas to compete. Indeed, Santa has become something of the symbol for consumerist Christmas -- and children seem more focused than ever on Christmas trees and presents -- opened on Dec. 24th.
In mid-November, Englberger developed an action plan. A member of her church group had mentioned that chocolate St. Nicks abounded in Austria -- almost on par with his slightly obese, twinkly eyed American cousin. So she headed across the border to see what she could find. The result? To her surprise, not much. Turns out, just as Germans up north head across the border into Poland to fill up the gas tank, their Bavarian cousins to the south head to Austria to stock up on mass quantities of chocolate formed to resemble the ancient saint. At least that's the news she got from Austrian store owners.
Not one to give up easily, she found out where the chocolate St. Nicks came from: an Austrian company called Hauswirth. She called just in time to order the last 100 figures. Should you want one yourself, you'll have to send your kids to Obergessenbach this Sunday. Englberger will be passing them out in church.
Englberger's offensive recalls a similar campaign in Frankfurt. In 2004, Catholic priest Eckhard Bieger made headlines by handing out stickers to proclaim "Santa-free-zones." Like Englberger, he also took a closer look at chocolate, by showing kids how to transform chocolate Santas into chocolate St. Nicks. The initiative continues this year, with stickers for sale on the Web along with kits to help you make your very own St. Nick.
Beware the cats and dogs
"I think the campaign is a good one," Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück told the Catholic News Agency in a recent interview. "The church should make more of an effort to bring their own Advent figures into the foreground." His first priority? Giving St. Nicholas a leg up in his ongoing battle with pre-Christmas consumerism as symbolized by Santa Claus.
Others may follow suit. A number of members of the local Catholic women's association have begun approaching more supermarkets in Germany to demonstrate that there is a demand for chocolate St. Nicks. Englberger, meanwhile, has her hands full until she passes out her treasures on the weekend.
"I have three cats and a dog, and they really like sweets," she says. "I have to protect my chocolate St. Nicholases from them."
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