Some of you know me as Santa Claus, but a bunch of killjoy Austrians know my true identity. I'm the latest threat to their nation's cultural purity and an avatar of odious American-style consumerism; Austrian anti-Santa activists even mistakenly believe that I'm a creation of the most powerful colonizing force in history, the Coca-Cola company. That's why I'm the bête noire of a group called Pro-Christkind, founded in 1998 by a former divinity student named Phillip Tengg.
"We're against the fact that Santa Claus has become an advertising symbol of almost boundless consumption," says Tengg. "It obscures the true meaning of Christmas. He's displacing the traditional St. Nikolaus and the Christ Child."
That's a smart, if wholly unoriginal, reading of what I'm all about. My favorite version of it is A Charlie Brown Christmas, in which Linus sets us all straight on the true meaning of the holiday, which has something to do with setting up Charles Schulz's kids for life by complaining about crass materialism (and is on sale, in a very special edition at a great price—would make a wonderful stocking stuffer!).
Love and candy canes to the Christkind group, and to other Austrian outfits who are battling American-style Halloween celebrations and imported traditions. But they're missing the larger point, which is that such customs mostly grow and flourish not because of big marketing budgets but because people find them enjoyable and fun, and imbue them with their own varied, personalized meanings. In fighting against me, the Christkinders are really fighting against their fellow citizens, not American cultural imperialism.