“Here is your final lesson – do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence. God said, ‘Vengeance is mine’.

(“I don’t believe in God.”)

“It doesn’t matter. He believes in you.”

— Abbe Faria talking to Edmond Dantes, The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)

***

LISTENING to a professor’s year-end cum pre-Christmas message to his class brought back memories of how this writer managed to acquaint himself with Santa Claus – the pot-bellied, snow-bearded, old man, who has endeared himself to kids of all generations for his philanthropic adventures on Christmas Eve.

Garbed in a red jumpsuit with black belt and boots, jolly ‘ol St. Nick (whom anthropologists say was the commercialized pre-figuration of the fourth-century Greek Christian bishop St. Nicholas of Myra) spends the proverbial night before Christmas sneaking his way into every “good” (take note) child’s home via the chimney hole to deliver well-deserved Yuletide presents made by an army of elves from his toy factory in the North Pole.

But looking back fifteen years ago, this writer and his innately over-inquisitive (pilosopo) side, upon hearing the Santa story, was hardly impressed. For him, Santa’s pre-Chiristmas exploits was a far more difficult yarn to spin than, say, the X-Men, Voltes V or the Ghostbusters. With this, he began bombarding the story-teller – his father – on Christmas eve with amusing (and somewhat annoying, you judge) questions.

“E ‘pa, kung sa chimney dumadaan ‘yung sinasabi ‘mong Santa Claus para makapasok sa bahay at ilagay sa red socks ko ‘yung regalo ko kasi nagpakabait ako, wala na rin palang kwentang magpakabait kasi wala namang chimney ang mga bahay sa Pilipinas! Hindi siya makakapasok…”

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The father replied: “Di bale anak, sa bintana na lang natin ilalagay ‘yung red socks mo para ‘dun na lang din ilagay ni Santa ‘yung regalo mo ‘pag nagpakabait ka.”

The son again retorted: “Huh? ‘Ba’t ‘dun? E paano naman kung kunin ng kapitbahay ‘yun kasi nasa labas ng bahay? Baka manakaw…”

“Mataas ‘yung gate natin,” the father said.

“E pa’no ‘pag pusa ‘yung kumuha? ‘Di ba sabi mo kahit mataas ‘yung bakod nakakaakyat ‘yung pusa? E ‘di makakapasok siya sa bakuran tapos kukunin n’ya na ‘yung regalo.”

For the last time, the father tried to remedy his son’s Santa-Claus anxiety by suggesting: “E ‘di ipapadala na lang ni Santa sa mail para ‘di manakaw.”

“E pa’no ‘pag sa post office nawala? ‘Di ba sabi mo maraming magnanakaw ‘dun?” Pa’no na ‘yun ‘pag kinuha ng iba?”

His patience already decked by his son’s quizzical jabs, the father finally threw in the towel weighted down by a heavy sweat of remorse: “Sana pala hindi ko na lang sa ‘yo kinuwento si Santa Claus. Hindi ka naman naniniwala.”

Somehow mollified by his father’s emotionally charged remark, the son held back and told him: “Pa, naniniwala na ‘ko kay Santa Claus,” if only to preserve the chance of, well, receiving something from Christmas’ ultimate godfather. In reality however, the son continues to harbor the same qualms about Santa and why his father had kept on convincing him that the man really exists. He asked his father: “Paano n’yo po nakilala si Santa? Kaibigan n’yo po ba siya?”

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Visibly stunned, the father could only cough off the words: “Oo, kaibigan ko siya. Nakilala ko siya sa trabaho.” “E ‘di sundalo ‘rin po pala siya,” this writer queried anew, referring to his father’s work.

By impulse, the father nodded in approval, describing his “friend” thereafter: “siya ang pinakamabait na sundalo. Hindi niya kami pinababayaan. Kahit ‘di Pasko pinupuntahan niya kami sa kampo at binibigyan ng regalo. Kahit anong hilingin mo, ibibigay niya basta magpakabait ka lang. Naging mabait ka namang bata, pwera lang siguro ngayon kasi medyo makulit ka pero ‘di na niya siguro iko-consider ‘yun kasi Pasko na bukas. Malamang na-prepare na niya ‘yung regalo mo.”

“E ‘di ibig sabihin pala ‘yung wish ko sa kanya matutupad dahil nagpakabait ako?” this writer asked. The father agreed before sending his son to bed.

When Christmas finally arrived the next day, this writer was thrilled to find out that Santa, as far as fulfilling the wishes of good children is concerned, is for real.

But prior to opening his present, this writer already had suspicions that what he had wished for — a pair of basketball shoes — was not the ones wrapped in bright red and green paper, judging from the shape of the box.

True enough, the gift that he received from Santa was not the pair of basketball shoes he had so yearned for since being hooked up with the likes of Air Mike, Shaq , AI, and Kidd among others. Nursing a bruised expectation, this writer then approached his father to ask, “ba’t bola ng basketball ‘yung binigay n’ya (Santa) e ang wish ko naman rubber shoes?”

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Heeding his disappointed son’s query, the father reminded this writer of the very purpose of his wish, to wit: “Di ba kaya ka nag-wish ng rubber shoes kasi gusto ‘mong matutong mag-basketball? Naisip kasi namin ni Santa na mas maganda kung bola na lang muna ang i-regalo namin para matutuhan mo muna kung paano talaga maglaro ng basketball, mag-dribble at mag-shoot.”

Makes sense doesn’t it?

Fast-forward today, this writer may have never gone raking bucks as a hardcourt idol of sorts. But certainly despite fifteen Christmases of self-scrimmage, this writer never lamented the day he took that basketball as a six-year-old Michael Jordan fan to the nearest hoop and followed what his first coach — his father — had told him: appreciate the game by learning something from every moment of play, just like how every blessing, on and off the court, should be treated.

This said, let this writer reaffirm once more the belief he has foisted onto his heart fifteen Christmases ago: Papa is the real Santa Claus. In fact, anybody can be one. His Santa-soldier friend? The Birthday Boy Himself.

So, you don’t believe in Santa Claus? It doesn’t matter. He believes in you.

***

Speaking of Santa Claus, a professor once shared this writer something he has read from a past Christmas issue of the Reader’s Digest when he was still a student, paraphrased in the following words: “when you are a kid, you believe in Santa Claus; when you grew up, you don’t believe in Santa Claus; when you become old, you are now Santa Claus.”

Merry Christmas dear readers.

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