A Curious Christmas

As my deplorable photographic skills illustrate below, Coca-Cola keeps the merry tradition going of advertising its product with a well-wishing Santa. Although nowadays, it’s arguably better to speak of a merry Santa plainly announcing that those days are here again – you know: those marking the end of the year, without getting into an uncomfortable commitment to either a happy holiday, a merry Christmas, a joyful Festivus or whatnot. To wit:

Merry Cokemas
Merry Cokemas

So in English we are approaching tout court Holiday 2009. Oh well.

Now, let’s see the Spanish version, conveniently printed on the other side of the very same bottle:

Feliz Navidad
Feliz Navidad

Here an unapologetic Santa wishes in Spanish Merry Christmas: Feliz Navidad. No ifs or buts.

Isn’t it interesting that an apparently pressing reason to culturally neutralize a reference to Christmas in the English version doesn’t – pardon the pun – translate all that well into Spanish?

What, don’t Spanish speakers appreciate Seinfeld’s legendary demand for recognition of Festivus? Is an attempt at making a for purposes of commercial expediency politically correct statement in just one language – but not in another – really an expression of embraced PC sensitivity, or does it remind rather of cultural apartheid thinking? As in: the same fundamental objections of those who prefer not to be reminded of Christian symbols are, seemingly, valid enough in English, but not so much in Spanish… To be clear, it’s not the inclination by itself to tone down religious identifying symbolism, for whichever reason, that which piques my interest here; it’s the cross-linguistic inconsistency which I find, well… Curious. Because it does present a bit of a quandary for the translator.

Of course, from a marketing point of view one could explain it as an exponent of market segmentation. But that’s not to say that a given principle shouldn’t apply to the overall market. And it’s not so that there’s no parallel construct available in Spanish, either; a culturally neutralized wish of “Happy Holidays” in English can be perfectly well translated as felices fiestas in Spanish.

It’s an interesting instance of something that is a hard to classify phenomenon, as much as it is somewhat revealing: translation, adaptation and projection are, apparently, three distinct but sometimes also treacherously overlapping notions.

Either way: Joyeux Noël, Gelukkige Kerst, Buon Natale, Fröhliche Weihnachten, Feliz Natal, Feliz Navidad, and, above all:

Merry Christmas!

7 Replies to “A Curious Christmas”

  1. Hi there,
    I also heard on NPR that Santa was originally dressed in white….when coca cola put him on all of his ads….
    Well, the rest is history…
    Merry Christmas,

    Tracy

  2. I’m not a religious person but I enjoy X-Mas. It’s a good season and reason to give and share with others.
    I don’t have a problem with : Feliz Natal e Prospero Ano Novo.

  3. Para todos : Feliz Natal!!!!!
    We can not change the fact that Christmas is not just religiously, but historically, the birthday of Jesus Christ. It is a fact!! I think there is nothing to argue about it. Only for people that has nothing else to do in life. So, Buon Natale a tutti! And I will wish you a Happy New Year later 🙂

    Rossana

  4. Ah, Alvarito, as incisive as usual, I see. To me, it’s Feliz Navidad and I’m NOT PC (although they could have used Felices Fiestas, y’know).

    Good to read you all and Feliz Natal, Bonne Année a tutti!!

    Marianita

  5. Álvaro – always good to hear from you! Hope you are having a nice holiday season, Christmas and New Year.
    Thank you for all your kind support, very helpful and appreciated!

    God Jul och Gott Nytt År!
    Maria

  6. I couldn’t agree more with Alvaro’s point.

    Been from a Spanish speaking country where “Navidad” is big, doesn’t leave a wide space to tolerance for other religious and non-religious festivities (ei, Hanukka, Kwanzaa). Going to a school with Jewish and Chinese classmates, showed me that not even a minority, could change the fact, even to those who did not celebrate Jesus’ birth, and where the ‘follow like the sheep’ rule applied.

    In Mexico it is still hard, to grow up with a different faith. I could only imagine the same in the Hispanic community in the States, because at least in Canada, is.

    That said, I always wondered where the discrimination and tolerance from too many Mexican nationals originates.

    And yes, I am Mexican and one of those who do not relate to any virgin of Guadalupe, Quinceañera, and ‘demás’.

    It is time to know that Mexico is also a whole-other-thing than what it could be perceived in the States. The trick is to live there. And still takes, unfortunately, a lot to be non-religiously-associated to “Navidad.”

Join in and share your thoughts!