As soon as Christmas is over, people in Japan start to eagerly look forward to the Shogatsu New Year holidays.
I wondered what Santa Claus would be doing after delivering gifts to children all over the world. I made a phone call to Mauri Kunnas, a famous Finnish writer of picture books, to ask the question.
“He takes a winter holiday until Jan. 6,” he said.
After completing their most important mission, Santa Claus and his crew return to a northern mountain near the border with Russia. In a secret village at the foot of the mountain, Santa Claus lives with many elves, according to Kunnas.
“Santa Clause & His Elves,” one of his picture books, published 40 years ago, has been translated into nearly 30 languages. It is a highly popular Christmas picture book in Japan as well.
I thought Santa Claus was a volunteer who worked only for a limited time, but the book told me that being Santa Claus is his regular, full-time job.
His new book, “Joulupukin joululoma” (Santa’s Christmas Holiday), a Japanese translation of which was published this year under the title of “Santa Claus’ winter holiday,” reveals how they spend their well-deserved holiday break. Dec. 27 is, for instance, the day for watching a play, while Dec. 30 is the day for visiting a reindeer farm. They spend a quiet day on Jan. 1 and then travel to town on Jan. 3.
In Finland, as in many parts of the world, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly. Kunnas, 71, received his third vaccine shot in mid-December.
“Please tell this to Japanese children,” he told me. “Don’t worry. The coronavirus pandemic will eventually come to an end. A winter holiday spent quietly reading books at home is good as well.”
Miharu Inagaki, who has translated his books into Japanese, is also an expert on Santa. Inagaki said she once read a story in Finland in which children give picture books and dolls to Santa Claus, who has come with an empty sack.
The message that Santa brings is that the joy of giving is also a gift that enriches your mind.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 26
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.