Plenary abstracts


Ivan Berazhny: Destinations and Texts: Commercialisation in Tourist and Semiotic Terms.

The paper highlights how the concept of destination and the concept of text, taken from their respective contexts of tourism and semiotic studies, can be brought together through two notions. The first notion is the notion of placement, whereby meanings of texts can be studied depending on where the texts are placed in a tourist location. The second one is the notion of entextment, whereby a tourist destination can be studied in terms of how the identity of a tourist destination may be semiotically “construed” in texts, for example in media texts.

For the latter case, the paper shows how one entextment of Rovaniemi (on the pages of Finnair’s in-flight magazine) may have contributed to the international tourist identity of the city, strengthening the image of the city as the residence of Santa Claus.

The paper also discusses the general role that texts play in the development of tourist destinations, and suggests how bringing Systemic Functional method into the studies of tourism could help exemplify, model, and adjust the processes of commercialisation of places.


Martin Kaltenbacher: War against Santa! A clash of cultures: Saint Nikolaus, the gruesome Krampus and the sweet benevolent Christkindl against the boisterous, capitalist Santa Claus.

This paper will present an overview of three popular Austrian (Catholic) Christmas characters and show how they are semiotically and discursively constructed in various contexts, such as the media or in commercial business, and how they are protected against international competitive folklore. The main focus of the paper will be on a recent “war between cultures”, fought by self-declared Austrian defenders of homeland traditions against foreign influences, such as Halloween or the “imperialist” US-American version of Santa Claus.

The three Austrian characters are:
– Saint Nikolaus, the canonized Bishop of Myra, who brings sweets to the well-behaved children on 6th Dec.,
– the Krampus, Saint Nikolaus’ devilish, beasty companion, whose duty it is to carry away and devour ill-behaved children,
– the Christkindl, a genderless, angel-like child who brings Christmas presents on 24th Dec., often associated with the infant Christ.

In recent years, these century-old traditions have come under competitive pressure from more globalised American traditions, such as Halloween and Santa Claus. These often fully commercialised customs have started to conquer the public space in the streets, on supermarket shelves and in private homes. While the foreign customs are far from ousting traditional Austrian folklore, their spread and increased visibility has given rise to interesting reactions both public and private. About ten years ago, private (and Church-induced) initiatives, such as Pro-Christkind or Rettet das Christkind (Save the Christkind) started to campaign against what they claimed to be an unreligious, boisterous, capitalist, Coca-Cola-driven, and even imperialist Santa Claus. These campaigns set up competitive websites and show ample activity on Facebook, YouTube and the like. In 2002, one of the campaigns received so much international attention that it triggered top coverage on CNN, the BBC, in the NY Times and the Herald International, in which the campaigners were accused of engaging in a mission, a crusade, or even a cultural war against Santa Claus (and the USA).

Nowadays, the dispute is far from being settled. While private initiatives have become quieter in reaction to the harsh criticism they received, regional governments have started to ban foreign folklore from kindergartens and primary schools and to push for restrictive legislation on the practice of non-Austrian folklore.

In this paper I will show how both sides exploit a plethora of discursive, visual and other semiotic strategies, while constructing the roles of the respective domestic heroes as the US and the foreign characters as the threatening OTHER.


Kay O’Halloran: Images of ‘Santa Claus’: Patterns and Trends on Flickr
We investigate tens of thousands of images with the tag ‘Santa Claus’ on Flickr, a popular website for sharing personal photographs and images. By using a framework which incorporates metadata (personal, geospatial and timestamp data) and image processing techniques (e.g. feature representation, visual topic detection and image classification), we draw conclusions about how Santa Claus is conceptualised around the world at different times of the year, with a focus on Canada, Alaska and Nordic countries (Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden), all of which claim that Santa’s residence (that is, his home and workshop) lies within their territory.


Giuseppe Pucci: Santa Claus’ classical roots

Taking the cue from Lévi-Strauss well-known essay “Père Noël supplicié” the paper investigates the Ancient Roman precedents of the Christmas, namely the December festival of Saturnalia, in which gifts were exchanged (the Greek author Libanius wrote that “the impulse to spend seizes everyone.”), houses and temples were decorated with evergreens such as laurel, holly and ivy whereas wreaths and small trinkets were hanging from trees.

Early Christians modified these customs, replacing the pagan god Saturn with St. Nicholas, a fourth century bishop of Myra (in present-day Turkey) famous for his generous gifts to the poor. In particular, the tradition holds that he once presented the three daughters of an impoverished father with rich dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes (a legend that is recorded also by Dante in the Purgatorio). According to some versions, Nicholas dropped three purses filled with gold coins through the chimney.

Even from an iconographic point of view, the analogies between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus are evident: the saint is depicted as a bishop, wearing a red cloak and a red miter. In 1087, the spoils of Saint Nicholas were taken to Bari, Italy, where they are kept to this day. Eventually Bari became part of the Spanish Kingdom of Naples, and Saint Nicholas’ cult spread in Spain as well as in the regions dominated by Spain, such as the Low Countries. There the figure of St. Nicholas became blended with Nordic folktales, and the Greek bishop was transformed into Sinterklaas (Santa Claus), the Christmas’ icon.


Eija Ventola: The Interpersonal Santa Claus: Face and Discourse

Face and facial expressions are essential in human interaction and connected with the interpretation of feelings of various kinds. Facial expressions function together with the production of discourse in our interaction with others. This paper discusses the connections of the studies on facial expressions and discourse realizations in the case of Santa Claus. Santa’s face has developed throughout the development of the Santa Claus cult. The paper explores the influences Santa’s face has had to the discourse that the Santa uses and how the face and discourse of the Santa is today used in various types of communicative acts.