Manila — I don’t remember any one memorable Christmas during my childhood, but most of it was replete with dreams about Santa Claus. My Christmases were not the usual midnight rituals of waiting for the old fat man with a white beard who is clad in red and who will drop from the chimney bearing toys and gifts.
We didn’t have a chimney and, growing up in both a mix of the countryside and an urbanizing small town, and with a kitchen of earthenware, wood and charcoal as the closest we had to a chimney, the image of the holiday season’s icon seemed out of place.
Our Christmas tree was usually a group of branches cut from a real tree and adorned with colored crepe paper and flowers, but at times, we put up one that was bought from the department store with strings of colored balls, lights and a yellow star on top. In the New Year, we make noise through a bamboo tube firecracker.
There were no grand trees with gifts at the base, but I enjoyed the food, usually noodles, rice cakes and fruits. I also enjoyed Christmas nights playing the cylindrical paper light and shadow toy that we kids crafted. I had fun going out with friends to go caroling, even if often, we didn’t get the lyrics right.
But there were rare times that we spent Christmas nights waiting for and watching fireflies dance and mate around the trees, under the moonless sky. From the first time I had this experience, I always looked forward to watching fireflies, which is why I love Christmas lights.
But with Christmases without fireflies, I turn to the lights, and Santa Claus who remains the magical and mythical figure that symbolizes the noble act of giving and showing love during the holidays.
I believed in Santa, even at the age when I was told that he is not real, or I think I figured out the fantasy-from-reality myself. But belief, being the kindle to a wonderful childhood, was what strengthened me to live through Christmases, hoping that I would one day come face to face with Santa and tell him about what I wish for in life.
And because this did not happen, of course, I grew up learning about how Santa Claus remained a controversial figure among critics, the Grinches of Christmas, who think that making children believe in Santa only to be told later that he isn’t really real is but damaging to children’s development.
The unravelling may be painful to some children, who can even develop hatred towards their parents for making them believe this childhood fantasy and who were manipulated to behave well lest they will not receive gifts.
I wasn’t traumatized at all. I think I just grew up and forgot about Santa. But I feel happy every time I see children in awe at a Santa, be it a doll or figurine in a mall or someone who donned the Santa costume. I still love magical Santa movies.
Now, for quite some time, I feel that I have been missing out on the magic of Christmas and of Santa Claus because I just let the holidays breeze away, and because, for so many years, Christmas has not been my favorite holiday of the year. But I want the magic to return.
I praise the families who welcome Santa into their homes. I am rooting for the children who embrace Santa into their dreams the way I did. I may no longer be that child who longed to see Santa, but I am one of the grownups who celebrate this make-believe symbol of selfless generosity who will remain forever in the hearts of children.
Diana Mendoza is a Manila-based journalist.