The Christmas season comes along and we instantly envision presents, mistletoe, lights, and family and friends as the accompaniments for the holiday festivities. Moreover, we wait in excitement for the arrival of Santa Claus, the jolly fellow, dressed in a red jumpsuit, with a red button nose, and pot belly, who comes only once a year to deliver gifts to those special few on the “nice list.” However, this famous, worldwide image of Santa Claus, was once entirely different. Through its replication in our ever-changing society and culture, the depiction of Santa Claus has evolved and continues to vary amongst different cultures and parts of the world. Due to these factors we can consider Santa Claus as a meme; presenting the elements of variation, heredity, and differential fitness.
The origin of Santa Claus can be seen when St. Nicholas was first brought to the New World by the Europeans. St. Nicholas began as a saintly bishop who was honored for dedicating his life to serving God and being a devout Christian, however, as times changed so did this image. In 1821, a poem titled “The Children’s Friend” was published and depicted Santa Claus arriving in the North with a sleigh and reindeer. The poem and its illustrations proved pivotal in shifting imagery away from that of a “saintly bishop.”(St. Nicholas Center) More and more artists began to portray “Sancte Clause” or Santa Claus in a wide variety, incorporating many of the identifiable characteristics that we see today. However, the recognized image was solidified in the 1930’s when Haddon Sundblom began 35 years of Coca Cola advertisements. This “further popularized and firmly established this Santa as an icon of contemporary commercial culture.” (St. Nicholas Center) Since Santa Claus was now the face of Coca Cola, his image became notorious through magazines, billboards and media outlets all over. Santa Claus drifted away from being that of a Christian bishop, and has now fulfilled a more materialistic role in our society. Today we see Santa as the bearer of gifts, the christmas tree topper, and the imaginary figure that fuels a child’s desire to be on the “nice list.”
Santa Claus exists in the realm of ideas being that the majority of people throughout the United States and even in some other parts of the world could easily identify its image. However, it is also part of a larger memeplex that includes a behavioral component of behaving “nice” in order to receive presents. When we were little our parents threatened that if we didn’t act accordingly we would be put on Santa’s naughty list, and be punished with a lump of coal in our stockings. Consequently, we did everything we could to be put on the nice list. This included writing Santa a letter on Christmas Eve, relaying to him what a good girl/boy we had been and leaving cookies and milk beneath the tree to cater to his midnight cravings. The “naughty or nice” complex has also been maintained and replicated as a popular meme in relation to Santa Claus.
The Santa Claus meme has been so successful in its replication throughout generations because of its strong traditions. The holiday is widely celebrated throughout the world, and since Santa is the face for Christmas, he is also universally consecrated. Furthermore, the story of Santa is constantly being engraved into Children’s heads. Parents pass on the memories of their childhood and their personal experiences with Santa as a way to spark excitement in their kids. Essentially, at least in today’s society, without Santa Claus there really is no Christmas. Therefore, as long as materialism continues to grow as a dominant factor of our society, the image of Santa Claus will live on, and his legacy as the ultimate gift giver will be passed on for many more generations to come.
Overall, before reading the excerpts from Blackmore and Dawkins, I can easily say I never gave memes much consideration, or placed much importance on their meanings in everyday life. Blackmore suggests that “all life evolves by differential survival of replicating entities.”(Blackmore 21) At first, this blew my mind, and seemed like more of an exageration. However, after reading more into memes, and seeing how viral videos, acts, phrases, and even trends have replicated throughout society and impacted behavioral trends, you begin to see that almost every aspect of society or social norm, is indeed a meme; something popular that has transcended time due to this popularity. However, memes exist purely on perpetuated behavior and imitation, and just as easily as something can be imitated, it can also be ignored. Therefore, memes must be able to survive in society and be accepted by society for them to be successful.
“St. Nicholas Center ::: Origin of Santa.” St. Nicholas Center ::: Origin of Santa. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2012. <http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/origin-of-santa/>.