Monday, November 24, 2008

making history, faking history

The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarket, or Christmas Fair, is world-renowned. Harking back all the way to the 16/17th century, when Protestants replaced the gift-bearing Catholic Saint Nicolas of December 6 with a newfangled Lutheran “Christkind” (reverting into the red-suited male Kris Kringle = Santa Claus = Saint Nicolas in the US) which brought presents on Christmas Eve (respectively Day), it is the very embodiment of old-fashioned German/European festive culture and attracts millions of tourists every year.

Not too many people know that central features of the market, particularly the grand opening ceremony featuring the angelic, blond-wigged child and two tinselled angels, which is even featured on the evening news, were invented by the Nazis in 1933. They considered the proper re-orchestration of the festival and its relocation to the city center, the former site of the Jewish Ghetto, a proper step in Re-Germanizing the town which would become the site of the more pagan spectacle of the “Reichsparteitage.” The Nazi mayor of Nuremberg also brought the town’s historical architecture into line, falsely Gothicizing Romanesque buildings to give them what was considered the proper Teutonic aura.

This little Christmas story is just a minor example of the way in which history is reconstructed, or often purely invented, for the purpose of serving some contemporary agenda. It is one of the oldest games in the book, because history has always provided legitimacy and is a key source of identity for our species, blessed and cursed with the gift of memory. In the world of perfume, history rarely plays a sinister role, but a considerable number of houses has chosen to build their brand image on impressive historical pedigrees which signify tradition, dignity, quality and an opportunity for consumers to connect with a luxurious past of nobility and royalty and the pomp and circumstance of the glorious old European courts. Among these purportedly venerable names we find Creed (1760) and Rancé (1795), Carthusia (1380) and Santa Maria Novella (15??), Farina Gegenüber (1709) and 4711 (1792) and numerous others. Needless to say that their histories, on closer inspection, not always turn out quite what they seem to be…

To be continued…

Illustration: Washington having bought Creed in Delaware.