Santa Claus or Baby Jesus?

Dec 26 2006

Leonardo Boff

Earthcharter Commission

Since I have a long beard and white hair, many children see me and call me “Santa Claus.” I try to explain to them, unsuccessfully, that I am only the brother of Santa Claus, and that my task is to keep watch over the children, to observe whether they are good students, whether they treat their classmates well, and whether they listen to the good counsel of their parents. I tell them that, afterwards, I tell Santa Claus everything, and that he will bring them beautiful gifts for Christmas. On one such day, one of them followed me with curiosity, and when he saw me getting in an automobile, he ran to his father and told him: «Daddy! Daddy! Santa Claus did not come in a sled; he came in a car.»

This is one type of Christmas, with its corresponding imagery. Santa Claus is a figure of the market. He is the jolly old man who tries to seduce the children, so that they make their parents buy them gifts. The memory that he evokes is Saint Nicholas, who also brought gifts, but who has disappeared, giving way to the infantile figure of the good natured naive old man who pulls surprises from his bag, things that were bought before, and put in the bag.

Since every house has a TV set –bread may be lacking, but never a TV set–, the children of the poor see Santa Claus and dream of the enchanted world he shows them, filled with gifts, toy cars, dolls and electronic games, to which they will rarely have access. And they suffer for that, despite the bright rapture in their youthful eyes. The market is the new god that demands submission from everyone. This is why the children press their parents for Santa Claus to stop there, at their «home.» Then it is the parents who suffer, because they are unable to fulfill the demands of their children, seduced by so many object-fetishes shown by Santa Claus.

The market is one of the main social creations. But there have been and there are many types of markets. Ours, the capitalist type, is terribly excluding and therefore, a victimizer of persons and enterprises. It is purely competitive, and not at all solidarian. Only those who produce and consume matter. The poor must be satisfied with crumbs or with living badly at the margin. At Christmas, Santa Claus is the central consumerist figure to all who are within the system and can pay.

The nativity of Baby Jesus is different. He was born to a poor and decent family. At the moment of His birth, among the beasts, the angels in heaven sang, shepherds were left motionless by the emotion; and even some wise men came from afar to greet Him. When He grew up, He became a magnificent storyteller and itinerant preacher with a message of total inclusion for everyone, starting with the poor, whom He called the “blessed.” Those who keep His sacred memory, listen on the Holy Night to the story of how He was born, and celebrate the humanitarian presence of God, who assumed the form of a child. And they honor Him by having a meal with family and friends. Here there is neither a market nor the excluded, only light, happiness and solidarity. The exchange of gifts symbolizes the main present God gave us: He, Himself, in the form of a child. He nourishes in us the hope that we can live without a Santa Claus, who sells us nothing but illusions.

Dom Pedro Casaldaliga, on seeing a newly born native child, once wrote: «I have not seen that star, but I have seen a very poor God. Mary was awake, as awake as was the night. And king Herod was forever frightened.» King Herod is no longer a person, but a system that continues to sacrifice human beings at the altar of a lonely consumerism.

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
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