I am from a time, the 1940s, when Santa Claus had not yet arrived in his sleigh. In our Italian, German and Polish colonies, explorers of the Concordia region (Santa Catarina), known as the site of Sadia and Seara, with their good meat products, only the Baby Jesus was known. Those were times of ingenuous and profound faith, that informed all the details of life. To us children, the Nativity was the culmination of the year, prepared for and eagerly awaited. The Baby Jesus would come at last, with His little donkey (musseta, in Veneto) bringing us presents.
The region had pine groves as far as we could see, and it was easy to find a beautiful pine tree. We adorned it with rudimentary materials that are still being made in that region. We used colored and cellophane paper and paintings we ourselves would make at school. Mother would prepare cookies with different figures of humans and small bugs, which we hung from the branches of the pine tree. On top of the tree there was always a large star, wrapped in yellow paper. Below, around the tree, we put the Nativity Scene, made of paper figures cut from a magazine to which my father, a school teacher, subscribed. There was Good Joseph, Mary, quietly withdrawn, the Magi, the shepherds, the little sheep, the ox and the donkey, a few dogs, and the singing angels that we hung from the lowest branches of the pine tree. And, naturally, in the middle, the Baby Jesus. Seeing him almost nude, we imagined him shivering from the cold, and we were filled with compassion.
We lived the glorious era of the myth. Myths express truth better than pure and simple historical description. How can one speak of a God who becomes a child, of the mystery of the human being, of salvation, of good and evil, other than by telling stories and offering myths that reveal the profound meaning of the event? The stories of the birth of Jesus that are in the gospels contain historical elements, but to emphasize their religious meaning, they are told in mythical and symbolic language. To us children, all of that was truth, that we accepted enthusiastically.
Before receiving their thirteenth salary, the teachers were given an extra Nativity bonus. My father spent that money on gifts for his 11 children. They were gifts that came from far away, and they were all instructive: a pack of cards with the names of important musicians, of famous painters, whose names were hard for us to pronounce, and we would laugh about their beards, their noses, or of any other detail. A gift that was very successful: a box with materials to build a house or a castle. We older children, who were starting to participate in modernity, got a jeep or a car moved by cord, or a wheel that sent sparks when moved, and other similar things.
So that there would be no fights, each gift had written below the name of the son or the daughter. And after, the negotiations and exchanges began. The irrefutable proof the Baby Jesus had passed by our house was the disappearance of the bundles of fresh grass. We would run to prove it. And it was a fact: the musseta had eaten it all.
Now we live in times of reason and debunking of myths. But that is only true for adults. Children, who now have Santa Claus instead of the Baby Jesus, live in the enchanted world of dreams. The good little old man brings presents and good advise. Since I have a white beard, no boy or girl who walks by me fails to call me Santa Claus. I tell them that I am not Santa Claus, but his brother, who comes to see if the children are doing as they should, and after that, I tell everything to Santa Claus so that he may bring them a nice present. In spite of that, many doubt. They come close, touch my beard and say: No, you are the real Santa Claus. I am a person like any other, but the myth makes me be a true Santa Claus. If we adults, children of criticism and myth debunking can no longer be enchanted, let’s allow our sons and daughters to be enchanted, and to enjoy the kingdom of fantasy. Their existence will be filled with meaning and joy. What more do we want from the Nativity, than those precious gifts that Jesus also wanted to bring to this world?