Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 9.27.27 AMAs explained by historians Santa Clause (A name originated from Saint Nicholas of Myra was a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop of Myra (now Demre) in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia, now in Turkey) was a transformational figure until the first Santa Claus painting made by Haddon Sundblom for the Coca-Cola Company, as it appeared in the December 26, 1931 issue of Collier’s Magazine. Sundblom painted a new Santa illustration for Coca-Cola almost every year until 1964. Besides making Coca Cola a house hold name, the depiction gave a jolly, loving, grandfatherly icon and marketing figure for businesses around the world. The rest was history.


Weeks after  Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly declared “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. and Jesus too” I watched a flashmob organized by Coca Cola dancing in tune of jingle bells in Addis Ababa mall. You might wonder what is the story here so allow me to explain.

Ethiopian Orthodox, Pentecostal and Catholic  Christians annually celebrate Christmas Day on or near January 7 to remember Jesus Christ’s birth, described in the Christian Bible. This date works to the Julian calendar that pre-dates the Gregorian calendar, which is commonly observed. The Ethiopian name given to Christmas is Ledet or Genna which, according to elders, comes from the word Gennana, meaning “imminent” to express the coming of the Lord and the freeing of mankind from sin. Genna is also the name given to a hockey-like ball game. Legend has it that when shepherds heard of the birth of Christ they rejoiced and started playing the game with their sticks. Men and boys in villages now play the traditional Genna game with great enthusiasm in the late afternoon of Christmas day, a spectacle much enjoyed by village communities and the elders who referee the game.

Genna is a well established holiday with its own multiple jingles, menus and traditional dresses and one of my favorite. I remember getting a Santa card when I used to live in Ethiopia and understanding it as a loving character of a foreign culture. It’s like St. Patrick, I am not quite sure the story behind it but I celebrate it with my Irish friends because I love them and let be honest St.Patricks have been very good to me as far as good times. I also remember Christmas trees, usually in the houses of people with western relations  or connections. The reason I am pointing out this is simply to say in this information age cultural exchanges happen much faster than the generation before and it has its own advantage and disadvantages.

Now look at the video attached of the flash mob. It starts with jingle bell tune and a young men and two girls entering the mall. A little kid with coke earphone dancing happily and the video zooms into a young men with a t-shirt that says “U B 6, I B 9″(an explicit turn of sexual position, which probably gives your grandma a heart attack, if explained) all around them coke banners. Then the whole mall starts dancing in choreography and Santa appears in a middle holding  coke in his hand as if he is saying “Diabetics Abeshas”.  Then the music turns into the Ethiopian Genna tune ( an escape clause for marketing execs) and it ends with that same famous Santa rendering of Haddon Sundblom with a word “Where will be the next dance with the father of Christmas?” preparing us for more commercials.

Almost all of the Ethiopian video and social networks appreciated the quality of the dance and video not knowing what is hitting them. For ages and ages to come, cultures borrow from one another. Adopting the culture of Christmas is not what bothers me, what bothers me is the commercialization of culture. Lately we are witnessing the eradication of what makes us unique and a token of African culture. little by little we are losing our culture and not knowing it. I am sure a lot of people consider my opinion as discouraging progress. If you consider stripping your culture naked is a progress, what do you call having no identity? As a great James Baldwin once said, “if you don’t know where you come from, you  don’t know where you going”. I encourage you to explore more cultures and be open to learn them but replacing what is your with a new will leave you without foundation. If you don’t trust me, in about twenty years the question will be “what Genna?” The commercialization of Genna have to noticed.