Don't change for change's sake

26th December 1997 at 00:00
When you're as old as I am, you discover that there are three sorts of people. There are modernists and there are traditionalists. And then there are the rest of us.

Being in my line of work, you would expect me to be a traditionalist. You would not, for the sake of political fashion, expect me to shave off my long, white beard. Nor would you expect me, as was recently suggested, to cast off my white furs and red cloak in favour of a more eco-friendly green. Santa Signs Up to Save the Planet? Ho, ho, ho!

Perhaps it's too many mince pies, but over the years I've developed a pretty thick crust to protect me from the vagaries of fashion. It's not that I have anything against people who shave. My own green credentials, as I shall shortly explain, are second to none. But if I didn't look like I do, I wouldn't be Santa Claus, would I?

Is it not time to stand up for tradition? Only last month, New York's best-known department store, Bloomingdale's, shamefully threatened to evict me, claiming I was passe. In the age of the Tamagotchi, I was told, children are no longer interested in white-bearded fat men.

What children are interested in, as I know to my cost, is conspicuous consumption. My back is positively breaking from delivering all those Action Man Moonrakers and Pet Doctor Barbies.

All of this is driven by fashion. The fact is that this Christmas, Pounds 160 will have been spent on every British boy and Pounds 145 on every girl. Isn't Christmas supposed to be about giving - not taking?

You would not expect Santa to be a la mode. I still cherish a letter from Mabel Higgs, a nine-year-old railwayman's daughter, posted up the chimney at her Wiltshire cottage on December 8, 1911.

Mabel's Christmas wish-list was modest: a storybook, a postcard album, a box of chocolates and some sweets. She also asked for a little rattle for her baby sister. And just to show what a nice little girl she was, she asked: "I hope you will remember the very poor children in the slums". Hasn't something been lost?

But let us not get too sentimental. I wouldn't want to turn the clock back. One of the reasons I have been around so long is that I have always tried to keep up with the times. Being also known as Father Christmas and St Nicholas, I am a traditionalist in more ways than one.

As well as being known for gift-giving and looking after children, I am patron saint of pawnbrokers. Even my Christian roots, which began in the fourth century when I was Bishop of Myra (in present-day Turkey), were grafted onto an older tradition.

My pagan roots run deep. In Finland, I am still known as Joulupukki, or the Yule Buck. Before Christianity came along, I used to dress up in goat skins and horns and appear at big winter festivals. If people didn't give me presents, I would cause havoc and frighten the children.

Of course, I have changed, and am no longer the Christmas goat. Even the oldest of traditions are not always good ones. So beware traditionalists and modernists alike. Keep what's best and change the rest. Merry Christmas!

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