There’s a nice story by Patricia Leigh Brown in today’s NY Times about Michael Cox, a Santa who talks to kids in their own languages:
This evening, amid frilly tulle snow and Muzak carols, Santa alighted at the Hilltop Mall with a melting pot in his sleigh.
“Maligayang Pasko,” said Michael Cox, 46, the multilingual Santa Claus, to 3-month-old Ghenne Delfin, speaking Tagalog, the language of the Philippines. “Merry Christmas.”
The North Pole may not be known for its diversity — if holiday television specials are to be trusted there are just elves, reindeer and the Clauses. But as the Santa fluent in eight languages took his seat at the center of the mall on a green wing chair in a wooden castle, the North Pole was transformed into California, with Christmas greetings in Spanish, Italian and Arabic:
“Idah Saidan wa Sanah Jadidah.”
Here in Richmond, across the Bay from San Francisco, it can be easy to disbelieve. This is a place that, when it attracts notice, it is usually because of its high crime rate or industrial pollution. But Richmond and surrounding communities like Hercules and Pinole have long been a portal for Filipinos, Mexicans, Chinese, East Indians and other newcomers who bring their languages, traditions and expectations of a better life.
“Namaste,” Santa said, greeting 7-year-old Chandi Kaushari and her two younger sisters in Hindi. Chandi confided a wish in a universal language. “Barbie,” she said…
In Tagalog, Punjabi, Hindi and Arabic, in French, Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin, girls in velveteen dresses and boys teetering on their fathers’ shoulders knew Santa Claus was speaking especially to them.
“They seem to spark up more,” Mr. Cox said. “He cares about them. He speaks their language.”
To parents like Jai Kaushari, a 28-year-old salesman whose daughters, Chani, Roshni and Kajal, speak Punjabi and Hindi at home, Santa’s linguistic gifts mean a lot.
“They understand him,” he said, standing beside the crackling video-screen fire. “So they trust in Santa.”
“Habla español?” Santa asked Danielle Sanchez, 3, as she climbed into his lap with a look of trepidation. “Cinco for Santa!” he said. And she gamely gave him five.
“Ilang taon na sya?” he said in Tagalog to Nancy Delfin, a 29-year-old sales manager, asking her the age of her daughter Ghenne.
Ms. Delfin said she appreciated hearing the language of her parents and grandparents in this public place. “Especially for little kids who aren’t able to visit their homeland, this is like speaking to a Santa in their hometown,” she said.
Yeah, yeah, Tagalog isn’t “the language of the Philippines” (it’s the official “national language,” but there are lots of others, and Cebuano has more native speakers), and being able to say a few phrases in a language doesn’t make you fluent, but I’m going to cut the Times some slack on this one, since they’re not trying to give us a linguistics lesson, just a feel-good story. Maligayang Pasko!