Fr. Alfonso A. Araceli SVD
One of the most iconic images attached to the Christmas season is the Santa Claus. A child’s mind is fascinated with a big bearded man wearing a glowing red attire and carrying on his back a sack filled with various gifts. Tradition puts it that every good child will surely receive a gift from Santa. If a good child requests for a gift, Santa would immediately reply to the child’s written request while s/he is asleep.
We are sure that the Santa Claus is not Filipino based on his physical features, and he came from somewhere -- a faraway place. He is not from our neighborhood but every Christmas season he would always manifests himself to us. And it is hard to imagine that Santa Claus would enter through the chimney – as the story goes about him – for most of Filipino houses do not have one. Santa Claus has become part of our imagination introduced to us through foreign influence. Despite these curiosities about him, we continue to be amazed and excited whenever we see his image during the Christmas season. As a young boy, I would see a Santa Claus cut-out bought from a bookstore and used as decoration in our classroom. And every year, he has been a familiar fixture to behold.
But who is this man who seemingly competes for attention with Christ as Christmas time comes? The Santa Claus whom we thought as only a creation of some creative people is actually a saint. And today, December 6, we remember him as St. Nicholas. How did this come about that the Santa Claus that we have adored through the years is actually St. Nicholas in the Book of the Saints? Only a few paragraphs are written about him in his biography; thus, we can say that he is almost unknown as St. Nicholas, but very popular as Santa Claus.
Fr. Bernhard Raas, an author of Liturgical Year, confirms and validates that Santa Claus and St. Nicholas are one and the same person. He says that St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century and was a bishop at Myra (today Demre in Turkey). On Christmas Day, during his lifetime, he would go around dressed as a bishop and would bring gifts to children, sick people, prisoners, and old folk. This practice of St. Nicholas became very popular and the tradition of giving spread throughout the world. Different cultures would call him different names: Sinter Klaas for the Dutch; Papa Frost for the Russians, while the name Santa Claus was popularized by the Americans. Despite the different names of St. Nicholas, the living out of life of faith through good works and reaching out to others which is the enduring theme of his life is the most important of all.
If Santa Claus existed in this modern time and among this modern generation of people, perhaps he would not be carrying that truckload of gifts anymore. Rather he would give his presents to children via cashless transaction. There is PayMaya, GCash, and other forms of e-money transactions or simply through online banking. Or perhaps if he insists on giving toys to children, parents would have received them through a delivery courier, and have them disinfected for fear of the coronavirus. Or better still, he would give us not toys but “ayuda” for we have just experienced a series of typhoons. Relief goods that we need such as foodstuffs, rechargeable lamps, foam for bed, extra clothes and other basic necessities would probably be a very timely content of our wish list for Santa Claus. Santa would surely be overwhelmed by it thinking that the Philippines is such a country frequented by natural calamities.
This spate of natural calamities that beset our country calls for the inner Santa Claus in us, that is, to be of help to others in order to lighten their present status of despair and suffering. However, even if we are encouraged to share, let us not aggravate their present living condition by giving them things that can no longer be useful for them. I have witnessed some “good-riddance generosity” by some of our brothers and sisters in the community, wherein typhoon victims were given Barong, Santacruzan gowns, tattered clothes disguised as used clothing donation. How about those recipient of foodstuffs with the usual recycled goods emblazoned with the face of a politician? This practice is uncalled for in times of calamities, but more so, the attitude should be purely generosity without mental reservation or personal benefit in return. For sure, the legacy of generosity with a pure heart endures, rather than a generosity that calls for self-promotion that is contrary to the real intent of giving.
Meanwhile, let us focus on the Santa Claus that we have grown up with, and perpetuate his legacy of charity to others, while the scripture reminds us that “each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).