“SANTA Claus” may be a Western stereotype and a cultural anachronism in Asia, but Filipinos believe in him. The figure of the white-bearded man in a red suit seems to displace the figure of the infant Christ in the manger as the icon of Christmas.
Leo Martin Angelo Ocampo, who teaches theology in the University, said the image of Santa Claus to Filipinos is too far from their social conditions and is more of a Western and middle-class concept.
Ocampo rhetorically asked how could Santa Claus enter Philippine homes where there are no chimneys.
Ocampo, a researcher from the Center of Religious Studies and Ethics, said Santa Claus for most Filipinos is merely a Christmas decor.
Ocampo said the image of Santa Claus as gift bringer is found in Filipino parents and godparents who not only give Christmas presents to the young but also teach them Christian virtues.
Despite the blatant commercialism of the bearded man in red figure and the Christmas season, Filipinos have started to raise questions about Santa Claus in the past years.
In 2013, a group of young Filipino rappers called Parañaque Rebels wrote a parody of the Christmas hit “Jingle Bells.” Titled “Santa Klaws,” their version is an apostrophe to the Christmas figure about his accessibility to adolescent Filipinos on social media.
“Santa Klaws, Santa Klaws, may Facebook ka ba? / Kung meron, anong email mo at ia-add kita / Santa Klaws, Santa Klaws, may Instagram ka ba? / Anong Twitter mo para ma-follow ka at ma-hashtag kita,” the group sang.
Parañaque Rebels also questioned Santa Claus’s characteristics which are seemingly far from reality and his Western features which are not conducive for Filipinos:
“Ako’y nag-iisip at ako’y nagtataka / Kung bakit nakasakay siya sa usa / Bakit siya mataba may dalang sako / ‘Di ba siya nauubusan ng regalo / Lagi siyang nakapula, wala ba siyang damit / Mahaba ang balbas, bakit di siya mag-ahit.”
But Santa Claus may still be purged of his “Western” and “commercialist” aspects if one returns to the original figure that inspired it—St. Nicholas of Bari.
Allan Basas, faculty secretary of the UST Institute of Religion, said that while Filipinos might not know Nicholas of Bari and would still cling to the old myth of Santa Claus, it would be good that they be reminded that the potbellied bearded figure in red was drawn from real life—a saint of the Catholic Church known for his charity and humanitarianism.
In the book “The Curious Tales of Santa Claus” by Gregory and Therese Conte published in 2007 at the United Kingdom, Nicholas is reported to be a bishop and one of the early Christian fathers even ahead of St. Augustine; he was born in 280 A.D. in Patara near Myra, which is Turkey in modern day.
A Christian known for his kindness and reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who were in need, Nicholas was chosen bishop and became famous due to his extraordinary piety, zeal and astonishing miracles.
Nicholas’s great kindness was legendary. He reportedly gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside to help the poor and sick.
He also reportedly saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father, by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married.
He likewise helped sailors caught in a dreadful storm off the coast of Turkey, so that he’s now considered patron saint of sailors.
The name Santa Claus evolved from Nicholas’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, which is a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas, or Saint Nicholas in Dutch. As his prominence emerged, Sinter Klaas was described as a “gift-giving man,” mainly to children and has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the early 19th century.
Since then, stores began to advertise Christmas shopping through the use of his image, while newspapers created separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus.
St. Nicholas’s feast day is on December 6, so that he has also become synonymous with Christmas.
St. Nicholas’s generosity personifies the real essence of Christmas—the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ the King, the symbol of God’s love and redeemer of mankind. As against Santa Claus which has now evolved as a representation of the pagan sybaritic ways of hedonistic Christmas, St. Nicholas of Bari should be restored as paragon of the true meaning of Christmas—of giving, generosity, sharing, and sacrifice.