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An archbishop who says there’s no Santa Claus and makes children cry? Bah humbug, I say

The story of St Nicholas should be reclaimed, not cancelled

By on Thursday, 16 December 2010

St Nicholas visits St Peter's Square (Photo: CNS)

St Nicholas visits St Peter's Square (Photo: CNS)

Almost every year, it seems, there’s a story about some wretched clergyman (in my experience, usually some Anglican who wants his name in the papers) who makes all the children in his parish cry by announcing that there’s no such person as Father Christmas. This year, I’m sorry to say, it’s a Catholic archbishop.

It seems that what annoyed this one was a plan for a “snow cabin” in the main square of his cathedral city of Resistencia, in Argentina, where Father Christmas would hear children’s wishes and receive donated toys to be given to poor children.

In response to this, in a sermon during Mass, Archbishop Fabriciano Sigampa told the children that Santa Claus was not real, but instead a commercialised symbol of Christmas. (I thought that this particular Father Christmas was collecting donated toys for poor children? What’s commercialised about that? But let it pass).

“That’s not Christmas,” Archbishop Sigampa said: children should not confuse celebrating the birth of Christ “with a fat man dressed in red”. Well, who said that they should? But they might well remember the story of St Nicholas, the original Santa ’Claus, who had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him (hence the gold-paper covered chocolate coins we give children at Christmas) and understand that story, surely, as being directly related to the underlying message of Christmas (just as Christmas presents should remind us of the gifts of the three Kings). Another version of the story of St Nicholas has him secretly, by night, throwing gold coins into the houses of the poor.

But does Archbishop Sigampa reclaim Santa Claus for the Church? Not him, the miserable old Scrooge. “Surely, in the coming days there will be a deluge of advertisements after they inaugurate the house where a fat man dressed in red lives. And we should not confuse, we should not confuse Christmas with that.” He said children “should know that, in reality, the gifts come from the efforts of their parents and with the help of Jesus”.

Yes, but the children already know what their parents do for them, and they take it for granted: that’s what parents are for, that’s just routine. What they look for every year is the wonder of Christmas, the idea that there is something magical about the season. More and more we are being told by the secularists that the real origin of Christmas is an older pagan feast called yuletide and that’s how we should keep it. But of course, when Christianity baptised the older winter feast, it was transformed, it became what it had never been before, a season of reconciliation, of peace to men of good will. And that meaning has persisted, even in these supposedly de-Christianised times.

We are similarly increasingly told these days that our Christmas has more to do with all the feasting and jollities of Dickens’s Christmas Carol than with the story of the birth of Christ: but Dickens’s story (which is, after all, the story of a conversion), and the Dickensian Christmas itself, are directly derived from the prior reality of the story of the first Christmas. “I am sure,” Scrooge’s nephew tells his uncle,

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that – as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

If the story of St Nicholas has been to some extent de-Christianised, it’s Archbishop Sigampa’s job to re-Christianise it, not to say that we just scrap it. Such stories, such traditions, are too precious to just cancel, as though they had never been.

Anyway, the archbishop’s sermon caused the organisers of the snow cabin to do just that. The snow cabin will now be called “The House of Christmas”: but it will have no Santa, no magic. So children just won’t be interested in it and it will be a flop. And I hope Archbishop Sigampa will be thoroughly satisfied, the old misery guts: a church full of weeping children and an excellent scheme for collecting toys for poor children scuppered. Bah, humbug, is what I say; and I hope the archbishop enjoys his plate of gruel on Christmas day.

And God bless us, every one.

  • Ratbag

    I can see the Archbishop's point, though. Some fat bloke in a red suit sprouted from the Victorian times when Christmas first became commercialised and the sleigh ran with it ever since.

    Saint Nicholas should be phased in – with full bishop's regalia – and his story told to children.

    And, as an Archbishop, His Grace should have grasped the opportunity to tell the story to his flock all about his brother bishop from Lyra…

  • Ci

    I fully agree with the Archbishop comments. Christimas has nothing to do with “magic” ; it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus who once told us that truth will set us free. Let us leave the “magical” stuff to Harry Potter & Co, and to some brainless, poor and pathetic parents that think they can buy the joy of their children at the supermarket, and with the magical help of a ridiculous commercial superstition.

    To think than one is upset about someone telling the truth, while we defend objectively a lie, is just insane.

  • Mrs.K

    The Archbishop is taking his responsibility seriously to teach and shepherd his flock in the way that he sees fit and most beneficial for his people. What I find far more disturbing is that you think his actions entitle you to refer to His Grace as a 'miserable old scrooge', 'the old misery guts' and call him 'wretched' simply because you disagree with him on this most trivial point.

  • Halibutthecat

    I agree with Ci that the 'magic' of Harry Potter is a poor thing (and without a doubt grotesquely commercialized), but I am with Dr Oddie on this.

    What small children sometimes understand better than grownups, or even older children, might better be named as 'mystery' than magic. The delight of a very small child in Santa Claus or Father Christmas is, I think, a response towards the mystery of surprising generosity, an unexpected abundance of love. It's important to learn how to experience and receive this, so that we can recognize it later in our grownup spiritual lives.

    In my experience of children, abandonment of belief in St Nick often coincides with a revision of Christmas, now simpoy a material procedure for 'getting stuff'.

  • paulsays

    I see no reason why the non-religious and religious parts of Christmas can't rub along fine, anyone that suggests that the traditional Christmas story, or the myth of Santa Claus should be divorced from Christmas is being quite a spoil sport. We don't need to choose!

    If there was one thing I would like to see change it would be for Christmas to be a bit less about the extravagant gifts, and more about seeing the family, giving alms to the poor and learning from the the morals of both the Bible story and traditional notions of Christmas Spirit.
    Some families, in order to make sure their children receive the same as other children, and also pressured by the bombardment of Christmas product advertising, will spend hundreds on their children that they cannot afford. In my experience it is many poorer families that feel this pressure the most as they don't want their children to feel different and left out, they then spend half of the next year paying the debt off.
    A small point, but I would like to think this could feel less necessary; if presents were less of the main focus at Christmas.

    Merry Christmas all :)

  • paulsays

    'brainless, poor and pathetic parents'

    parents are under a lot of pressure at Christmas! Surely this is a bit cruel

  • W Oddie

    Nothing trivial about it: and don't be such a stuffed shirt

  • EditorCT

    Mrs K, whoever wants to is entitled to call that archbishop a “miserable old scrooge” – trust me, when I read this article, I called him stuff that is unprintable.

    “Taking seriously his responsibily to teach….??” Is this an archbishop who is wholly faithful to Tradition? Who has no liturgical high jinks going on in his parishes and his own Masses? An archdiocese free of lay people playing at being priests?

    Trust me, no. I've never heard of him before and there isn't a remotely orthodox bishop in the world that isn't known to beleaguered Catholics fighting the crisis in the Church.

    This archbishop is a disgrace for spoiling the innocence of little children. How blankety blank dare he?

  • EditorCT

    I am totally astonished – and furious – at this news. Goodness, if parents can't be sure that their child's innocence is not going to be cut short in a church during Mass in a sermon preached by an archbishop, even in the matter of innocent belief in Santa Claus, where can they be confident of the preservation of their children's innocence? To call this archbishop “old misery guts” is to understate the case completely. He is a nasty piece of work. And don't reply, bloggers, to say “we must respect the office not the man” Rubbish. If any other professional is making a mess of their job, we don't respect their professional position. I don't respect this archbishop, so to those of you who don't like it – tough. Live with it.

    I look forward, greatly, to listening to my beautiful little nephews innocently telling me that they heard Santa's sleighbells (as they did last year – their dad rings a bell at the front door which is the signal they need to get to sleep so Santa can come in) and all their little imaginings (they were certain they saw a reindeer's footprint in the snow last year) plus a list of the toys this magical figure brings them at Christmas. If I thought any cleric had robbed them of this delight of childhood in a so called sermon, I would personally pay him a visit and it would be a very unpleasant visit. Let then preach about doctrine, about Hell about sin and about fidelity to the Church's teaching and disciplines. Not about the next thing on the list to remove a child's innocence – now that Catholic schools are worse than any others for their explicit sex education programmes and celibacy-suffering priests. Gimme strength.

    Many years ago, in correspondence between Cardinal Heenan and Evelyn Waugh, writing on the aftermath of Vatican II, some concern was expressed about whether or not the people still respected the bishops. It was touch and go then. I've touched ont his above but let me add – Archbishop Sigampa? I have NO respect for him – none at all.

    Indeed, I put a huge question mark over his own innocence. Can you imagine a soul of the purity of some of our great saints, wanting to spoil an innocent belief in Santa Claus for small children? In a word as corrupt as ours? Disgraceful.

    Instead of despoiling the innocence of children, and undermining parental wishes (I know parents who would be totally livid if they'd been in his congregation) why isn't this archbishop sorting out the serious problems in his diocese? Don't tell me he has sanctuaries empty of lay people in high heels prancing about playing at being priests, saying “Body/”Blood of Christ” with their royal smiles, to each and every Communicant (i.e. everyone in the church) and don't tell me his seminaries are bursting at the seams.

    So, why isn't he concentrating on the real problems in his local church instead of cruelly wrecking what should be an innocent and magical time for children?

    Excuse me while I go and search for his email address.

  • EditorCT

    It is not a lie. For someone so quick to call other people “brainless” I thought your post was hilarious.

    There is a key truth at the root of the Santa Claus (short for Saint Nicholas) legend, and it is this: that giving for the sake of giving, is a good in itself. Something praiseworthy.

    In our “all for profit” mentality society that is not a welcome truth, but it is a truth just the same. Saint Nicholas was one such “do-gooder” who gave for the sake of being generous, giving to those who have nothing or very little. That's what children learn from the Santa Claus part of Christmas and it ties in perfectly with the account of how God became man, a humble infant, set to redeem us – wholly gratuitously, without any merit of ours – from our entirely warranted destination – Hell.

    I repeat, if that Archbishop can find time to preach about “no Santa Claus” when the world is reeling with the heresies being spun day in and day out by bad priests and bishops, then there's something wrong with him.

    Correction: there's a lot wrong with him.

  • EditorCT

    As an archbishop he should have preached doctrine and corrected heresies, and kept his nose out of spoiling Christmas for children. “His Grace” is surely not living in the only archdiocese in the world that is free of daft women running around the sanctuary with their click clacking high heels and their royal (look at me) smiles as they distribute Holy Communion – these, and other scandals and sacrileges, should be the focus of his sermons, not spoiling the innocence of small children. If I'd been in his congregation I wouldn't have waited until after Mass to introduce myself. Trust me.

  • Rich

    I totally agree, and would add that archbishops are not always right.

    Strangely, due to the position [of respect] that they hold, they do have a duty to think before they talk. Unfortunately, not all of them do.

  • Ratbag

    I agree with you about the clicky-clacky high heeled shoes on certain women in the parish who behave as if they own the place! I do wish parish priests would put their foot down with a firm hand with these fuss pots! They know who they are…

  • Ratbag

    Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are nothing new. They were around in the very early days of the Church taking the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to the sick.

    Pope Paul VI revived the privilege.

    As an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion for over 17 years, I have NEVER considered myself as a 'layperson playing a priest'! When I was asked to partake in this very privilege, rather than protest my utter unworthiness to my priest, I accepted out of obedience. Furthermore, I am aware of WHO is in the chalice and the ciborium and distribute Him with reverence.

  • EditorCT

    This claim that lay people distributed Holy Communion in the early Church is disputed.….

    Pope Paul VI gave us what no other pope in history even thought of doing – a new Protestanised Mass, so please don't cite him as evidence of a reliable source in this or anything else for that matter.

    However you consider yourself , Ratbag, you are doing something that is quite shocking – handling the Blessed Sacrament. You are actually undermining the priesthood. It's no coincidence that there is widespread decline in belief in the Real Presence following the introduction of the new Mass and laity handling the Sacred Species.

    In any event, this practice has been consistently forbidden even by modern liberal popes. In the 1997 Instruction on the laity, the Pope said that even a packed church was no reason for their use (article 8) and although – as is now the custom with these modern popes – under pressure he has institutionalised this liturgical abuse up to a point, it is clear that he and his predecessors do not like or want it. They are NEVER used in papal Masses and the fact that there was fury from the Vatican organisers when our bishops disobeyed that order from the Pope's liturgist in September, is well documented.

    It is misleading to say you accepted out of obedience. Satan's masterstroke was to disrupt the Church in an unprecedented way, by recourse to (false) obedience. If your priest told you to wear vestments and hear confessions, would you?

    Yip, probably. That's how the Devil works. As one of our readers put it, these lay people giving out Communion begin by saying “well, my priest needs me…” and then, standing alongside him at the spot where Catholics used to kneel and worship the God Who made them, they look sideways at him and ask “but do I need him?”

  • Mamasnookems

    I tell my kids the REAL truth about Christmas, it is all about the love of our God coming down as all God and all man to save all mankind from their sins, telling them about Santa Claus is not real, there may have been a St. Nick, who was a generous and gave to the poor, but today, it has gone out of control, and lost the real meaning. It is all about Christ and not santa, reindeers, sleighs, happy holidays, blah, blah, blah. My kids didn't even cry when I told them that there is no such thing as Santa, why lie to them.

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