Czechs love ‘poor’ Jezisek better

The freedom-loving Czechs are rebelling again against an imperialist tyrant, although this time the oppressor is not the Soviet Kremlin but the World’s favourite fat man with bells.

The Creative Copywriters’ Club, a leading advertising association in the Czech Republic, has launched a campaign to eliminate Santa Claus. Their website, Anti-Santa.cz, features the Virgin Mary suckling the infant Jesus adorned in full Santa garb, replete with eleven pom-pom-topped hat.

“Over the last three years we have taken notice of this stupid, fat guy with the red outfit taking over our television ads and we say it’s enough,” explained Martin Charvat, creative director at the BBDO agency in Prague and one of the campaign’s supporters. He complained that cardboard Santas were popping up in the Czech capital’s storied Old Town like daffodils in spring.

“We have our own way of celebrating Christmas with baby Jesus, Jezisek, delivering the gifts. This American Santa is just confusing our children.” The copywriters’ association took an ad out in the Czech marketing weekly “Stratagie” to promote the anti-Santa site and put advertisers on notice. “The best part is that Catholics didn’t get mad that we used the Virgin Mary on the site,” said association head Petr Voborsky, who admitted that, like most Czechs, his members were largely “without religion.”

David Koenig, another copywriter, recalls what drove finally to him into an anti-Santa fury. He was reading a Czech pop-up book to his three-year-old daughter in which “Tomas and Jana built a snowman while waiting for baby Jesus,” Koenig writes on Anti-Santa.cz. “Everything was fine. Then on page eight the bomb exploded and guess what Jesus looks like? He looks like a a merry bearded man not worried about being overweight.”

Charvat of BBDO says that he started noticing the Santa-isation of Prague three years ago. Today the consumer finance firm Home Credit, EasyJet and shopping malls all use Santa in the Czech Republic to promote their wares. The roly poly Christmas mascot so popular in the West is the modern version of the European St Nicholas, popularised by Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam, later New York.

Santa has been pretty good for advertisers world-wide, although many Europeans resent him as a foreign agent. Charvat admitted that a giant Jezisek would perhaps not be the most appropriate promotional vehicle for the new commercially minded set, including himself. After all, Jezisek is supposed to be invisible when he puts the presents under the Christmas tree on December 24.

Not so for the more jaunty Santa. In Sparky’s, a favourite Prague spot for toy shopping, a Santa suit is displayed prominently in the front of the store with an informative English-language instructions for the best way to don the hat, beard and belt.

The invasion of the sleigh-riding philanthropist who yells “ho, ho, ho” is one consequence of the capitalist onslaught in the Czech lands after the so-called 1989 Velvet Revolution. Before then, Santa was really banned. But so was religion. That did not stop the singled-minded Czechs from continuing to tell their children about Jezisek, as they had for centuries.

But why would Europe’s most atheistic nation, according to numerous surveys, be so attached to a religious Christian symbol? Hint: Santa was not the first elderly man to try to supplant Jezisek. “During the 40 years they didn’t managed to force Grandfather Frost upon us so they shouldn’t force Santa on us either,” Voborsky rails on Anti-Santa.cz

Voborsky was referring to the Soviet attempt to foist its own Russian Christmas icon onto what was then Czechoslovakia. President Antonin Zapotecky, in his 1952 Christmas radio address for kids, went so far as to say Jezisek symbolised the poverty capitalists wanted workers to live in because the son of God was born in a barn.

“Grandfather Frost doesn’t walk around naked in rugged clothes, he is dressed nicely, wears a fur cap and fur coat,” he told the country’s youth. So perhaps it is understandable that even those whose job it is to promote commercialism, copywriters, want their money-making symbols to be home grown.

None of the anti-Santa spirit had yet reached Prague-resident Martin Stojanov, a small business owner shopping at Sparky’s with his five-year old son Matej. “My son is smart enough to know that now Santa and Jesizek bring the gifts together,” he said. “It’s the new Czech tradition.”

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