Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at LeonardoBoff.com.
by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
We are forced to live in a world where things are the most explicit object of desire for children and adults. What's for sale has to be bright and magical. If not, nobody buys it. It speaks more to the greedy eyes than to the loving heart. Within this dynamic is the figure of Santa Claus. He is the commercial evolution of Saint Nicolas -- Santa Claus -- whose feast is celebrated on December 6th. He was a bishop, born in 281 in what is now Turkey. He inherited a substantial family fortune. At Christmas time, he went out dressed as a bishop, all in red, with a cane and a bag with gifts for the children. He gave them to them with a note saying they came from the Child Jesus.
Santa Claus gave rise to the current Father Christmas, creation of an American cartoonist, Thomas Nast, in 1886, and subsequently spread about by Coca-Cola, since consumption fell a lot during this cold season. The image of this good old man, dressed in red and with a sack on his back, good natured, giving good advice to children is the dominant figure on the streets and in the shops at Christmas time. His country of birth would have been Lapland, in Finland, where there's heavy snow, elves, fairies and gnomes, and where people travel in sleds pulled by reindeer.
Is there a Santa Claus? That was the question that Virginia, an 8 year-old girl, asked her father. He told her, "Write to the editor of the newspaper. If he tells you that he exists, then he actually exists." That was what the girl did. She received this beautiful answer:
"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence."
But for this, we must learn to see through the eyes of the heart and love. Then we see that there is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. Is there a Santa Claus? Thanks be to God, he lives and will live forever as long as there are kids big and small who have learned to see through the eyes of the heart.
This is what we lack most today: the ability to rescue the creative imagination to project better worlds and to see with the heart. If this existed, there wouldn't be so much violence, or so many abandoned children, or the suffering of devastated Mother Earth.
For Christians, the figure of Baby Jesus shivering on the straw, warmed by the breath of the ox and the mule, serves. They told me, mysteriously, through one of the angels singing in the fields of Bethlehem, that He sent a Christmas card to all the world's children that says:
Dear little brothers and sisters,
If you look at the manger and see Me there, knowing in your heart that I am the Child God who doesn't come to judge but to be, cheerfully, with all of you,
If you are able to see My presence in other boys and girls, especially in the poorest,
If you have succeeded in reviving the child hiding in your parents and adults so that love and tenderness well up in them,
If, when looking at the Nativity, you notice that I'm almost naked and you remember the many children who are equally poor and poorly clad, and you suffer in the depths of your heart because of this inhumane situation and truly wish for it to change,
If, on seeing the cow, ox, sheep, goats, dogs, camels and elephants, you think that the whole universe receives My love and light and that everything -- stars, rocks, trees, animals and humans -- forms the great House of God,
If, when you look upward and you see the star with its tail, you remember that there is always a star over you, that keeps you company, lighting you and showing you the best paths,
Know then that I am coming again and renewing Christmas. I will always be near you, walking with you, crying with you and playing with you until that day -- only God knows when -- when we'll all be together in the house of our Father and our Mother of kindness to live happily ever after.
Signed: Baby Jesus
Bethlehem, December 25, 1.