For my third year in a row I have been Santa at Wafi Mall. A great privilege and honour and a fantastic way to get into the Christmas spirit as an adult and an even better way to make some families' festive season that little bit more authentic.
With a fantastic team around me it's something I look forward to, remember fondly and partly dislike - it's the beard! What I wanted to do this year in my post-season blog was to concentrate on the vast array of nationalities and receptions that you receive as the jolly old fellow. Last year I spoke about How to Meet Santa, but let's take a look at Santa around the world:
I'll start with the culture I know best, Europeans. Of course, this sounds like this section is going to be a broad sweep across all of Europe, but I'll do my best to split them down into each individual nationality where appropriate.
In general, Europeans see Santa as a very welcoming, all-knowing being. Whilst this can often make the 'magic' of meeting him all the more significant, it can also be a bit daunting for the children. This culture definitely has the most cry-babies. And who could blame them for being terrified?! How many times have you heard "Santa is watching", "if you're not good Santa will take away your toys" or "you're on Santa's Naughty List"?
Parents, Santa isn't all bad. In fact, if you scare your children any more it might be you who ends up on the Naughty List!
In terms of asking the child what they want for Christmas the answers are fairly straight forward. Expect the usual popular toys and overly-marketed things that have caught their eye. Be prepared for some expensive requests too!
One thing that is interesting is how diverse Santa and Christmas can be in such a small area. Brits celebrate on 25th morning and leave Santa a mince pie and a glass of whiskey at night; Catholics (Central and Southern Europeans, mainly) celebrate on 24th midnight (almost nothing happens on the 25th); Scandinavians call him something else and do something else...weird.
I'm bulking other Westerners into one bit, because in Dubai there's not a huge amount of them to make a more informed judgement. In general, a lot of their culture is very similar to Europeans when it comes to Christmas, just small details that change.
Americans are all about the photo. The all important Christmas card picture. Get that and you're good. The also insist on leaving Santa a cookie and a glass of milk. I mean, it encourages no drink-flying right?!
Aussies are super into it and 'in the moment'. They love Santa and the experience, even if it means traumatising the child. Meeting Santa is more for the parents than the kid in that part of the world...and I love it!
Obviously I could talk about South Asians as a whole, but since most Christianity in that part of the world is found in India let's keep it as it is.
In my opinion, these are my favourite. Very simple requests (90% of the time the child will just ask for 'a gift' with nothing specific in mind), they follow your instructions and answer your questions very politely and clearly. They're not scared of Santa either, big plus!
My only thought would be that you come prepared. Prepared for about 10-15 family members to pile into your little grotto just for one picture with their little angel. I've got no issues with that many coming in, but we need your help to squeeze you all in, so listen up and have patience!
Christmas is a big deal to the Philippines and despite being halfway round the world, it carries the same importance to the expats or Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs). With this in mind, they're very polite and often in awe of Santa. The children have experienced a fair share of Western culture and so request much the same things, but the whole demeanour of these guests is much calmer.
That said...phones. Camera phones. Lots of them and lots of pics. And poses too! *peace sign*
Whilst most of the world will believe that the Middle East is all Muslims that is entirely untrue! 5% of the Middle East is Christian (20% at the start of the 20th Century and an awful lot more than that around 2000 years ago!) and so you get a lot of visitors from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and other Levant countries.
This is where it gets a bit hectic. Children can sometimes be demanding, parents tell Santa what to do and a lack of discipline can take an upset child's visit from a 2 minute affair into a 10 minute one, so be prepared to sit, wait and let time take its course.
It might sound bad, but there's lots of love in Arab families. Enough love to fill the room with much of the magic that makes Christmas what it is. When the grandparents are in town it's clear that there are some strong family bonds that are worth holding on to and it's great fun to be part of it for just a few minutes.
Yes! Non-Christians! Whilst Christmas is for Christians, Dubai is a beautiful microcosm of cultures and religions and even Santa gets included into the vibrance of the city. In the same way Christians enjoy Ramadan Iftars and Diwali festivities, Muslims, Hindus and more all flock to meet the jolly fellow.
Whether it's including and opening their childrens minds to other religions and cultures or it's a fun novelty it is always a pleasure to welcome other people into the grotto.
I've often had Emirati families come to visit me and they are so calm and peaceful it's a great change from the madness of others. Large Hindu families too bring along a level of spirituality and peace that adds to the overall experience of being Santa.
Whilst this is a short, brief analysis of cultures and their inclusion of Santa this blog is as much for you learning about Santa around the world as it is for me remembering my experience as Saint Nick. Whilst I might be looking to take a break for a year or two I doubt it will be for long!