Most of the English television programming I get to watch here is from the UK. I spend a few of my childhood years in England. Back then I remember that white-bearded guy who allegedly brings you presents for Christmas as always being called Father Christmas. Our strict-yet-nice headmistress, who gave me a great big Christmas anthology book when we moved away, would correct us if we called the old man Santa Claus.
Father Christmas seems to have virtually disappeared from the
British language these days. He's completely morphed into Santa Claus,
the American version, with the ho-ho-ho and the big fat belly. Father
Christmas, I think, was a bit stricter, a bit sterner, and you were
never really quite sure if the stockings you hung on the mantelpiece
were going to be filled or not.
Santa Clause? He's easy. You can demand gifts of the dude and he'll just nod yes to everything, and the elves (parents) scramble around frantically shopping to make the little tykes happy for half a day, before they get bored tired and start fighting each other.
Britain has, from my point of view, become more and more like an odd colony of the USA over the years. The watershed moment was when Princess Diana died. That kind of sort of naked outpouring of emotion by the masses just astonished me so much, that it still sticks to my mind. The well-meaning yet somehow tacky displays of affection - the plastic flowers, the misspelled notes in the guestbooks. It's so different from when I was a little girl there. I remember having a conversation with the old guy who came to paint our rented house every year (not sure why he had to come every year, but it was in the rental agreement apparently). As he painted, he would patiently answer my precocious questions. From him, more than anyone else, I learned abot such concepts as not making a fuss, keeping my elbows off the table, and not making too much noise. Once, I asked him why the British Empire shrunk so much. His answer: "We got too big for our boots". So concise and beautiful.
His Britain no longer seems to be there. Instead we have a Britain that seems to emote as much, sometimes more, than Americans in public, and to consider that a virtue. One that loves open confrontation and shouting. One that makes 'celebrities' out of people who you wonder what exactly they do. Once that watches shows like Celebrity Big Brother and I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here avidly. One that lets the bellies and the wobbly bare arms hang all out, and puts elbows on the table and eats with one hand.
Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, I suppose. Maybe it's just part of the casual-ness of the 21st century. If that's the case, then there may be no place for a stern, taciturn Father Christmas any more. Ho ho ho.