Quantcast

Commentary

Who is the real Santa Claus?

By

The “Santa Claus” that we see walking around in shopping centers before Christmas is a caricature of the real Santa Claus; he is like a clown. I can say this in all sincerity, because I know the history of the phenomenon called Santa Claus.

The real Santa Claus originated from Holland, the country where I was born and grew up as a child. In the Dutch language, Santa Claus is called “Sinterklaas,” and this word is derived from Saint Nicholas whose feast day we celebrate in the Catholic liturgy on Dec. 6.

Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Mira in Spain, who was known for his great generosity, especially toward children. As far as I know, it was only in Holland where Saint Nicholas was venerated as such. In the 17th century, many people from Holland emigrated to America and formed a Dutch colony in New Amsterdam, presently called New York. These people introduced in America the idea of a Santa Claus, and they connected this with the celebration of the Christmas season.

As I have said, this Santa Claus is for me a big caricature. Some Filipinos may be offended when I say this, but they must admit that this way of celebrating Christmas is also foreign to Philippine culture. The Americans introduced to the Philippines this tradition when they colonized the country, and they got it all wrong with their interpretation of Santa Claus. Originally, Santa Claus had nothing to do with Christmas, and when I see this clown walking around in the malls during this season, I feel irritated because I remember what the feast of Sinterklaas meant to us when we were children.

According to our belief, Sinterklaas would come every year to Holland during his feast day. He would arrive in Amsterdam by steamboat, bringing along his horse and his servant Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who would be carrying a sack full of presents and candies to be distributed to the children. Sinterklaas, sitting on his horse, would walk on the rooftops. If he had time, he would personally visit the children’s houses. Or he would send Black Peter down through our chimney to bring us presents and candies.

On the evening before Dec. 6 we would place our shoes in front of the chimney with a carrot inside for Sinterklaas’ horse. Early the next morning we would go down in great excitement to check if the carrot was gone, and if there were presents and candies. But if our house would be honored with a visit by Sinterklaas himself, we would welcome him with songs. And then Sinterklaas would sit down and open his book, and he would call us by name, one by one, and he would invite us to sit on his lap. Then he would read from the book the times that we had been obedient and also the times that we had been disobedient, and he would urge us in a fatherly way not to be disobedient again. It made such a big impression on me as a child that Sinterklaas knew all these things, and I sincerely promised not to do those bad things again.

Later when I had grown up and did not believe anymore in Sinterklaas, I learned that it was my mother who had supplied all the information to Sinterklaas, who would be played by one of our neighbors. One time it happened that our next-door neighbor, a woman, was willing to play Sinterklaas. After the visit I told my mother that Sinterklaas had the same voice as our neighbor. My mother immediately skipped the subject, but I myself never suspected that Sinterklaas was our next-door neighbor, so strong was my belief in him.

I am writing this to impress on readers the psychological value of this Sinterklaas celebration. It would also be good for our Filipino children to know this story. But regarding what I have said that Santa Claus has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, I must qualify that there was also a custom of exchanging gifts during the feast of Sinterklaas. All the adults in the family would buy presents for each other. They would wrap up the presents and usually would include in each package a self-made poem addressed to the receiver. On the evening of Dec. 6 there would be an exchange of gifts, everyone would unwrap his/her gifts, and there would be a lot of enjoyment over the different poems. This custom of exchanging gifts during the feast of Sinterklaas was passed on also by Santa Claus to the feast of Christmas. This, of course, is a very meaningful custom at Christmas—to exchange pamasko with each other in celebration of the birthday of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest gift of all from God to mankind.

As a last comment I wish that here in the Philippines, we can go back to the celebration of Advent as preparation for the birth of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem. And I wish also that we will stop singing those exotic carols like “White Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” We should sing real Christmas songs on Christmas Day itself, which give various descriptions of the Christmas event. (Merry Christmas to everyone, and especially to my Dutch compatriots in the Philippines.)

Arnold van Vugt is based in Cagayan de Oro City. For comments, e-mail nolvanvugt@gmail.com.


Follow Us


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


More from this Column:

Other Stories:

No related posts found!

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=42993

Tags: Arnold van Vugt , Christmas , column , Santa Claus



Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
Advertisement

News

  • Tagle: Christ’s resurrection a message of hope to faithful
  • Aquino vows to intensify anti-corruption drive further
  • Unease in Vatican over cardinal’s luxury flat—report
  • Nepal calls off search for missing guides on Everest—official
  • Pope’s Easter Message ‘Urbi et Orbi’
  • Sports

  • Rain or Shine grabs No.4, sends Ginebra to 8th
  • Red-hot Alaska rips injury-depleted San Mig Coffee
  • Pacquiao courtesy call to Aquino set for Monday
  • Nick Calathes suspension a reminder of supplement risk
  • Teague scores 28 as Hawks soar past Pacers in Game 1
  • Lifestyle

  • Angono petroglyphs in danger of disappearing
  • Britain’s baby Prince George visits Australian zoo
  • Noli Yamsuan, Cardinal Sin’s ‘official’ photographer: ‘I could smell the aftershave lotion of the Pope’
  • Simplifying and lightening life
  • Where to go for Easter night-out
  • Entertainment

  • Show-biz celebrities’ other choices of summer getaway
  • Why ‘Noah’ can’t dock his ark at Philippine theaters
  • Acclaimed artist goes wild while on holiday
  • Believing in this mermaid
  • Missing Xian
  • Business

  • Top-selling insurance agent opens her dream café
  • Connecting and transacting with one another
  • Building wealth for health
  • Why Mandaue Foam buys, rather than rents, space
  • A workplace of new possibilities
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Epiphany
  • Unpaid creditor vs distressed debtor
  • Moving on
  • From culinary desert to paradise
  • Response to China: ‘Usjaphil’
  • Global Nation

  • Tim Tebow’s charity hospital in Davao seen to open in 7 months
  • OFW died of Mers-CoV in Saudi Arabia, says family
  • Aquino, Obama to tackle US pivot to Asia during state visit
  • Asia seeks Obama’s assurance in territorial spats
  • Cesar Chavez movie sparks memories of Fil-Am labor leaders
  • Marketplace