A FEW days ago, at breakfast with my grandkids—Max, five years nine months, Sylvie, three years seven months and Oliver, 15 months—we were having this fantastic freewheeling conversation that revealed to me the logic and wisdom of children.
Max: Lolo, how old is Santa Claus? He must be 100 years old, very, very old (He counts only up to 100) but you don’t have a beard!
Sylvie: Lolo has a ‘mousetash’
Max: Not the same, Sylvie. Lolo, when you were little, did Santa give you presents? Did Santa give baby Jesus presents?
Oliver: I want my milk!
Sylvie: “Yes, in the pictures, I see Santa and his friends with beards giving presents to baby Jesus, because Christmas is his birthday”.
Max: How come we have presents under the Christmas tree when it is not yet Christmas. Did Santa come already?
Oliver: “I waaannt my milk!” He screams.
The conversation went on and on. I think my answers didn’t satisfy the kids.
I have now experienced more than seven decades worth of Christmases, and I have pleasant and wonderful memories with those that I can still remember. But the years have extracted their toll and seldom do I recall occurrences in streams. The mustiness and fog concealing precious details are just too thick to penetrate, perhaps locking them forever. But this Christmas would be different. I will record my thoughts and conversations with my grandchildren. It’s just that I miss two of them who are spending the holidays with their mom’s parents; Javier, four years on December 26 and Claudia, two years, one month, in Manila.
Max: Lolo can you tell me about your Christmas when you were little?
This prompted me to repair to my usual musings which of late I find myself doing; a comfortable state, that relaxes my mind that clinical psychologists say are good for one’s mental health and averts the onslaught of Alzheimer’s disease.
I suppose, as in most Christian countries, especially in Catholic ones like the Philippines, Christmas is really celebrated for kids. And even for decades past, our parents brooked no expense just to make this one day, every year, a memorable and festive one. I couldn’t remember a bad Christmas. I don’t remember also when I stopped believing in Santa Claus. Although I was convinced that he must have been a foreigner, because there were no sleigh bells in Calinan pulled by reindeers; and our local deer were skinny and scroungy although the sun-dried venison, called “tapa,” were tasty. And I didn’t like the depiction one Christmas in our parish church of a belen surrounded by farmers, and in the nearby convent, Santa incongruously dressed in a farmer’s clothes with a buri bag of presents and gifts with his kanga pulled by eight papier maché carabaos. I wanted my Santa to remain a Westerner, because foreigners were rich and could afford to give me gifts; although my gifts every Christmas morn never matched my wish list. I must have been a bad boy the whole year; or maybe Santa must have given the toys I wanted to our rich neighbors.
I didn’t want to tell these particular experiences to Max, Sylvie, Oliver, Javier and Claudia. I want them to discover by themselves, over time, when they grow up, that Santa does not exist and that a host of other narratives portrayed in the Christmas story were mostly fictional and have been embellished over the millennia.
To begin with, Jesus the Christ’s date of birth was never established. Clement, a bishop of Alexandria put Jesus’ birth on November 18, AD. Some scholarly studies put the date at September 11, 3 BCE. Most scholars generally agree that Jesus’ birth was between 7 BC and 2 BC. Only in 4 AD was December 25 decreed by the Catholic Church to be Christmas Day.
The Nativity scene where Jesus was born in a manger first appeared in Italy in 1223 and gained traction in Europe in 1500s. He wasn’t born in a stable but probably in a “cave-like place,” or the lower floor of a relative’s house.
The “Star” of Bethlehem was probably a nova that was proven by astronomers to appear in the sky on June 17 between the years 3 BC and 2 BC. No three kings visited and adored Jesus in a manger. Scholars believe they were some sort of “wise men” who visited Jesus when he was between one and two years old at his family home.
Only in the gospels of Mathew and Luke was the birth of Jesus written about. Mark, the oldest of the gospels, and John started theirs when Jesus was an adult.
Now, about Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas, a real person and a fourth century Greek bishop of the town of Myra in the Mediterranean coast of Turkey was believed to be the original Santa Claus. Christian tradition imbued him with characteristics that have undergone changes over time and assumed several identities in European folklore; Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Sinterklass, Pere Noel and many more. His popular image was of an old bearded man who categorized children’s behavior as “naughty, nice, good or bad”; and leave presents for those who were nice or good during the year.
The modern image of Santa Claus as a jolly fat bearded white grand-father-like figure is one borne out of popular culture and immense commercial success that propelled billions of dollars during the Christmas season. He operates from the North Pole with his army of elves producing toys 364 days of the year and with his reindeer-driven sleigh delivers presents to only the good boys and girls on Christmas Eve, December 24. He doesn’t deliver to Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu children.
But I will not share this version with Max, Javjav, Sylvie, Oliver and Claudy. This Christmas eve, December 24, I will stay with them with flashlights ready and will try to stay awake. We will wait for midnight and listen to the sleigh bells. Although our house doesn’t have a chimney, we hope to catch a glimpse of Santa when he lands on the roof with his sack of presents, pulled by Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. I have my camera cellphone ready for a quick group picture of my grandkids with Santa; or at least get a selfie with the red-nosed Rudolph pulling the pack.
Merry Christmas everyone!