Variations on a Christmas theme: Santa Edition
Welcome to the final Variations article. In the previous two articles we discussed typical Christmas conventions and how they apply to the workshop and Santa’s transportation. Today in our concluding article, we will be looking at the man himself: how Santa is typically portrayed in Christmas films and if there are any differences to the contrary.
I think we’ve all seen enough Christmas movies by now to know what the typical Santa looks like. Santa is a jolly fellow, dressed in a red suit, has a beard as white as snow, and a protruding stomach that jiggles when he laughs. For most movies, this is a fairly standard portrayal and most movies follow it. Movies like Elf, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, and others follow this typical portrayal.
An interesting variation on this concept can also be seen in The Santa Clause, where we see how a typical man goes from average father to becoming the Santa figure. The film is fun in that sense, because he goes out of its way to play up those conventions that we know and love. We see the main character gaining weight with no explanation, growing the beard, and having children follow him around wanting to tell him their wishes. It’s another take on the whole Santa mythology, but at the same time it seems to cemented even further by showing us how those things develop.
Of course, this is the image of Santa that most people have grown up with, so it’s fairly common for filmmakers to continue to portray him this way. However, this is not the case for all filmmakers as we will see.
There are other ways that Santa is projected. Without getting into too much TV, the portrayal that the show Futurama presents seems to be popular. In that show, Santa is presented as a robot whose ideas about who’s naughty and who’s nice are not only strict and firm, but are punishable. In the show, Santa is a thing to be feared. He still retains the same image that Santa is known for, but now it’s something to be afraid of rather than be excited about.
One thing that’s interesting to note is how one film presents Santa’s character in terms of his personality. Image is one thing, but when Santa’s personality differs from the typical portrayal, it can leave a bad taste in your mouth. That’s how I felt about Arthur Christmas, and the film’s portrayal of Santa. Despite how he may look, Santa is supposed to be a heroic and almost altruistic figure. He is supposed to be a very kind, very personable, and seemingly intelligent man. After all, the man is able not only to manage a massive workshop, but to deliver millions of presents in one night. Clearly he not only needs to be smart but needs to have a good work ethic. However in Arthur Christmas, the Santa figure is little more than a figurehead. He is portrayed as being someone who has a good heart, but it’s completely dense and is lacking in respect, not only of others but of himself. While I know the films focus was to portray two different aspects of Christmas embodied in the sons, it was hard to see both of those parts in Santa himself. Santa was little more than a very oblivious, very dependent figure, and it was almost sad to see him portrayed that way. Still, it was an eye-opener, because up until that point I had never considered Santa’s personality of being such a huge importance to the man himself. That film changed my mind.
Another film that challenged my typical idea of how Santa should be portrayed is Rise of the Guardians. If you haven’t seen this film, I would highly recommend it. I feel that it didn’t get the hype that it deserved last Christmas season. I think it deserved all the praise it received and more. The Santa in this film was portrayed as more of a European Santa. The Santa of Russian mythology always wears a long red coat lined with fur, has a fur hat, big boots, and carries a staff. This seemed to be the starting point for the filmmakers when they were developing this character. This Santa is not your typical Santa. This Santa is a warrior, who takes his job seriously and doesn’t let anything or anyone stop it. He also, however, has a heart of gold and though he is portrayed as tough, you can see how much he adores what he does and the children he makes happy. It was also the first time that I had ever seen Santa with tattoos. On one huge arm, he has tattooed the word “naughty”, and on the other “nice”. He also wields to swords rather than a staff. It’s an interesting portrayal, but also very refreshing. It still manages to keep the Santa we know and love while making him, to put it bluntly, a badass. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s definitely worth a watch.
So that’s that. We’ve covered Santa, his surroundings and environment, and how he delivers the presents. While most films follow the typical conventions and portrayals, there are some variations and ways that filmmakers make it their own. It will be interesting to see in the next couple of years whether any other Santa films are made, and how they go about explaining. Maybe they’ll create something completely new. But they’ll have to be careful. If doing these articles has shown me anything, it’s that people like seeing the things that they are most familiar with. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I hope everyone has a safe and Merry Christmas, and I will see you in the new year.