An Italian bishop has become the focus of controversy after he dared to tell schoolchildren that Santa Claus is a hoax meant to sell more products during the Christmas season.
The unusually frank comments from the bishop of Noto in Sicily have since gone viral, earning both support and the criticism of parents.
“No, Santa Claus does not exist,” Antonio Staglianò told children, according to il Quotidiano del Sud. “In fact, I would add that the red of the suit he wears was chosen by Coca Cola exclusively for advertising purposes.”
The comments were delivered in the context of a feast day commemorating Saint Nicholas, who initially inspired the myth of Father Christmas and was famous for his generous deeds.
Once the comments went viral, however, the bishop’s diocese quickly offered its mea culpas.
“First of all, on behalf of the Bishop, I express regret for this statement that has disappointed the children, and want to clarify that this was not at all Mr. Staglianò’s intention,” read a statement posted to the Diocese of Noto’s Facebook page that was penned by press secretary Father Alessandro Paolini.
“First of all, on behalf of the Bishop, I express regret for this statement that has disappointed the children, and want to clarify that this was not at all Mr. Staglianò’s intention,” the statement added.
The statement added that the bishop merely aimed to re-center the holiday season and “reflect on the meaning of Christmas and the beautiful traditions that accompany it with greater awareness.”
Paolini added that it was time to “regain the beauty of a Christmas now increasingly ‘commercial’ and ‘de-Christianized.'”
“If we can all draw a lesson, young or old, from the figure of Santa Claus (which originates with Bishop St. Nicholas) it is this: fewer gifts to ‘create’ and ‘consume’ and more ‘gifts’ to share,” the statement continued.
In an interview published Friday in La Repubblica, Bishop Staglianò defended his comments, saying: “I didn’t tell them that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, but we talked about the need to distinguish what is real from what is not.”
“A real fact has come out, namely that Christmas no longer belongs to Christians,” he added, noting that “the Christmas atmosphere of lights and shopping has taken the place of Christmas.”
The bishop decried that “consumer culture” had overshadowed the true meaning of Christmas embodied by baby Jesus, who was “born to give himself to all humanity.”
The apology underscored these comments, noting that the Christ-child was the “Gift par excellence” and that the true meaning of the Christmas holiday could be preserved through more meaningful gifts like “showing up for someone we have been neglecting or ignoring for a long time or mending a damaged relationship.”
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