Naughty or Nice? The Art of Storytelling Across Cultures

Updated: Jan 20

“Stories are one of the most powerful emotional currencies we humans possess. Stories have been a fundamental and influential part of the human experience since we developed language. They move people to feel, and they move people to act.”.

Stories are the way we document and share important events, beliefs, and values of our culture.

Storytelling is all about adapting stories to tell them in slightly different ways to different audiences. By examining a story told throughout time by different cultures one can gain a better understanding of how changes in culture and technology can lead to different story adaptions.

What Story Comes To Mind?


A story we all know and love that many cultures tell differently by changing certain elements is the story of a very kind and jolly man, a beloved and influential figure in the lives of many children.

In the UK, he is known as ‘Father Christmas’ and in France he is known as Père Nöel’. He is also called Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Sinterklass, Christkind, Dedt Moroz, Papai Noel, and Hoteiosho all depending on which country you are in. Here, in the United States, he goes by Santa Claus. Stories and legends have made him the traditional patron of Christmas in the US, UK, France, and many other countries.


Storytelling Across Different Cultures: Santa Origins


The stories and traditions of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a 3rd-century monk named St. Nicholas, who was known for his gifts to the poor. Born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patera near Myra in modern Turkey. “It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick.”.The main elements such as name, where he lives, where he puts the toys/presents when he delivers presents, and how long it takes him to deliver those presents all depends on who is telling the story. Every country tells the story a little differently to better reflect their culture. 

Let’s take a look at different Santa’s found around the world. You may be surprised at how many different versions of the Santa there are.

Santa In Different Cultures

In both “Belgium and the Netherlands, Sinterklaas is the leading figure who, in contrast to St. Nicolas and Santa Claus, is more serious. Depicted as wearing a bishop’s alb and cape as well as the ruby ring, he rides a white horse and often carries a staff.”


He also delivers gifts over a three week period, dropping the gifts into the chimneys as he flies over houses on his white horse. This is celebrated on St. Nicholas Day, the 6th of December or the evening before. In Japan, Hoteiosho, like Santa, is portrayed as an old man who carries a big sack over his back.


“But, unlike Santa, he’s got eyes in the back of his head and he uses them to know when children are naughty or nice.”. In Brazil “Papai Noel – shows up from his home in Greenland wearing an outfit made of silk. Before going to bed on Christmas Eve, children set out their shoes. And in the morning, they find them filled with small gifts. They also look for presents hidden around the house.”.


Like many Christmas symbols and traditions, he has evolved from old stories and practices. Imagined and illustrated in the US to be an old man in a red in a white robe, with a long white beard, rosy cheeks, and big round belly who loves eating cookies and milk and who lives in the North Pole with Mrs. Claus and his elves delivering presents on the 24th of December.



Storytelling Channels


The story of Santa is told through books, like one of my personal favorites “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, originally a poem called, “A Visit From St. Nicholas”. These are just a few ways in which technology and time have changed the way the story is told through different channels and changes in elements to modernize Santa and make him more relatable and entertaining drawing audiences to listen to his story about the “Night before Christmas”.


Besides traditions passed down, poems, and books, there are also songs, downloadable applications, and movies to reach audiences with the story and allow them to better interact with it. Popular movies such as Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, The Santa Claus, The Grinch all portray a version of Santa Claus. These retellings have been impacted by technology reflecting different variations, telling the same overall story of Santa Claus.



The way children interact and engage with these stories has also evolved with the use of technology continuing to advance. In the past sixty years, children can now use NORAD to know Santa’s whereabouts on Christmas Eve. From the 1950s to around 1996 to track Santa on Christmas Eve, certain media outlets were used such as a telephone hotline, newspapers, radios, and television. Many television newscasts in North America feature ‘NORAD Tracks Santa’ as part of their weather updates on Christmas Eve.


Technology’s Impact on Storytelling


Many feel technology allows us to better engage in storytelling. By manipulating our story elements or content we can effectively connect with our target audience and reach different cultures through the power of storytelling. According to the book, Storytelling for User Experience, “Stories are more than just a way of broadcasting information” . They are interactive and come to life in the imagination of the audience members.


Stories Adapt with Culture & Over Time


Stories often adapt and change over time and with the technology we use to tell them. As marketers, it is important for us to understand the adjustments that need to be made to stories to fit different technology and media requirements so that our story can be delivered effectively to our audience.

Written by: Jess Gold Content Strategist


#brandstrategy #Santa #Cultures #digitalmarketing #Storytelling

©2020 by Jess Gold Digital Marketing Strategist. Proudly created with Wix.com

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"If It Can Be Imagined, It Can Be Created"