Oh, oh, oh. A bishop in Italy just dropped a bomb on school children: Santa Claus is just a figment of the imagination.
“No, Santa Claus does not exist," Antonio Staglianò told youngsters in an event on Dec. 6, the feast day of St. Nicholas, who inspired Father Christmas, according to Italian media.
Local outlets also reported that Staglianò took a swipe at Coca-Cola, quoting him as saying that the soda company chose Father Christmas's red suit "exclusively for advertising purposes."
I wanted to explain that a consumer culture such as that of gifts is different from a culture of gift.
The bishop's comments then spread like wildfire on social media, drawing the ire of many parents for supposedly bursting the children's bubbles days before Christmas.
It prompted the Diocese of Noto to issue an apology and explanation, penned by its communications director, the Rev. Alessandro Paolini.
"On behalf of the Bishop, I express my sorrow for this declaration which has created disappointment in the little ones," the Dec. 9 statement read, "and want to specify that Monsignor Staglianò’s intentions were quite different."
Paolini said the bishop wanted the children to "reflect on the meaning of Christmas and the beautiful traditions that accompany it with greater awareness," as he was trying to underline the story of St. Nicholas, a bishop who gave gifts to the poor and was persecuted by a Roman emperor.
"Santa Claus is an effective image to convey the importance of giving, generosity, sharing," the communications director said. "But when this image loses its meaning, you see Santa Claus aka consumerism, the desire to own, buy, buy and buy again."
Staglianò, meanwhile, revisited his comments in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The Diocese of Noto on Dec. 11 also posted the bishop's interview answers in its blog.
In setting the record straight, the bishop said he didn't tell the kids that Santa doesn't exist, but instead "talked about the need to distinguish what's real from what's not."
"I wanted to explain that a consumer culture such as that of gifts is different from a culture of gift," Staglianò said. "Baby Jesus was born to give himself to the whole of humanity."
The bishop added that a "real fact" came out, that "Christmas no longer belongs to Christians," echoing Paolini's sentiments on consumerism.
"The language has emptied itself. Even the crib itself has been exploited, reduced to an object of beauty, so the Christian message becomes an empty container and loses that truth which means love," Staglianò said.
"The Christmas atmosphere between lights and shopping has taken the place of Christmas."