24th December 2000
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Why we need the magic of Santa

By Laila Nasry and Uthpala Gunethilake

'You'd better not shout, you'd better not cry

you'd better not fight, I'm telling you why

Santa Claus is coming to town..'

So says the song but is Santa really coming?

In the innocence of childhood, magic is almost second nature to us. Santa with his pot belly and snowy beard, his brood of reindeer and the jolly old ho ho ho! may be more real than real people. When Christmas comes it's Santa who rings a bell inside each kid's head.

10-year-old Christine is waiting for Santa as eagerly as she has done all these years. "He always gets me nice things. I look forward to Santa coming every year," she says.

Shevaan, (7) is ready with his lists for Santa. "I wrote a card for him telling him what I want for Christmas and gave it to dada to post," he says happily. And has he been good? "yes", he says emphatically.

However it's not all who go to bed at Christmas eve with the joyous thought that Santa will be in through the door loaded with gifts. The Santa phenomenon seems to be confined only to the blissfully young with wide eyes of wonder and boundless imaginations. For those 'young at heart' it has evolved into a world of make believe...a world once we all want to cling to.

20-year-old Liandra Miriyagalle belongs to those legions who would certainly love to believe that Santa was true. "Of course against my better judgment I'd love to believe that there was someone who went around giving gifts, making people happy," she says wistfully. Unfortunately she was bluntly awakened to the Santa-less world when she was just seven. Liandra was explaining to her non-Christian friend all about Christmas and Santa Claus when her friend's older brother barged in and scoffed at the fantasy, telling her that it's her mother and father who plays Santa every year. "It was such a rude awakening, a big let down," says Liandra.

"Believing in Santa is a good thing. You are only a child once and all these fantasies shield you from the harsh realities of the world. So you should have the chance to be a child as long as possible. I would let my children believe in Santa as long as they can and gently break the truth to them," she says.

Lilani Jayatileke can't believe in Santa anymore. "The magic of Christmas has been lost with the process of growing up and I'm sorry about it," she says. For her, Christmas and Santa Claus have been such a special part of her childhood. "You inhabit this magical world which Santa, the fairies and the elves are all a part of and it's that sense of wonder of childhood that has been lost."

Recalling her childhood days she says that the feeling of awe and mystery is the same as the one you would feel when you see something very beautiful like the reflection of light on water with rainbow colours emerging. "It's just that now we don't see things that way, we just see it as light and water and not the beautiful rainbow colours, which is a pity."

Her young daughter too found out the truth about Santa. "She heard from a friend and I'm sad because the belief could have gone on for a little longer. However she's still a child and she likes to pretend and still writes letters to Santa. She is young and can make believe but that's something I've lost."

"Otherwise," was Manel Abeyratne's reaction to whether she believes in Santa.

Without Santa there is no magic in Christmas." However she stresses that Christmas is a season for the celebration of the birth of Christ. It is also a children's festival and has all the elements of mystery and magic.

"Too much concentration on Santa tends to distract the children." For she feels they concentrate on getting gifts rather than giving which contradicts what Christmas inherently stands for.

As for her kids she says they knew that there was no real Santa. " My son who was around ten at the moment knew jolly well there was no Santa but the lists still continued consisting of all kinds of things. It was a kind of joke for him and his friends and there would be constant giggling between them." It was then that she decided it was time to let him know.

"I told him 'there is no Santa to bring you what you want. You can tell me and I'll see if I can afford it."

Mrs. Abeyratne is of the view that today's kids are very smart and know at an early age that there is no Santa. She feels it's alright to let children know the truth.

"Parents worry and go to great lengths to get gifts for their children even at times when they can hardly afford it." Nevertheless she reiterates that believing in Santa does not harm children in any way.

Fine, so Santa doesn't really exist. But has that made him any less popular? Not at all: still hale and hearty, each year Santa inspires millions of cartoons, greeting cards, stories and even jokes, and down the generations he has been made immortal. The ho ho guy from the North Pole is very much alive, so be good for goodness' sake!

Who's that rosy cheeked, roly- poly man?

The original Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, was born in Lycia, Turkey in the fourth century. His generosity was legendary, and he was particularly fond of children which led to his becoming the patron saint of children.

Throughout the Middle Ages, and beyond, he was referred to by many names except Santa Claus. Children today would not at all recognize the St. Nick who brought gifts to European children hundreds of years ago except for his cascading white beard.

He made his rounds in red-and-white bishop's robes, complete with twin-peaked mitre and crooked crozier. He was pulled by no fleet-footed reindeer, but by an indolent donkey. And he arrived not late on Christmas Eve, but on his feast day, December 6. The gifts he left beside the hearth were usually small: fruit, nuts, hard candies, wood and clay figurines.

During the sixteenth century, St. Nicholas was banished from most European countries. But the Dutch kept the tradition alive. As the "protector of sailors," St. Nicholas graced the prow of the first Dutch ship to America. And the first church built in New York City was named after him.

In sixteenth-century Holland, children placed wooden shoes filled with straw and a meal for the gift-laden donkey by the hearth, the night of St. Nicholas's arrival. Nicholas would insert a small treat into each clog. When the tradition came to America, the shoe was replaced with the stocking, hung by the chimney.

The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas "Sint Nikolass," which in America became "Sinterklass", later "Santa Claus". Much of modern-day Santa Claus lore, including the reindeer-drawn sleigh, originated in America.

It was in America that Santa put on weight. The rosy-cheeked, roly-poly Santa is credited to the influential nineteenth-century cartoonist Thomas Nast who created a series of Christmas drawings for Harper's Weekly. These drawings, done by him for over twenty years, show the evolution of Santa from the pudgy, diminutive, elf-like creature of a poem by one Dr. Moore, called "The Night Before Christmas", to the bearded, potbellied, life-size bell ringer familiar across the world today. Nast's cartoons also showed how Santa spent his entire year making toys, checking on children's behavior and reading their requests for gifts.

Santa is known throughout the world by many different names, eg; Dutch-Saint Nikolaas (Sinter Klaas), German-Kris Kringle, Italian-Befana, Russian-Bobouschka, (a grandmotherly figure instead of a male).

From: Personality Creations Christmas Story Book

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