The kids are elbowing each other to get a better view of Santa crawling on his way to the end of the ladder perched horizontally high up on the ceiling of a shopping mall in Petaling Jaya.
Poor Father Christmas has to abseil eight storeys all the way down to the stage below which looks like something out of Disneyland complete with made-in-China Christmas trees, PVC mistletoe, holly, ivy, cotton-wool snow and polystyrene bells.
"What’s Christmas to you?" I asked one of the kids.
"Sun Tah Klaws, of course!"
"What about the Jesus Christ?"
"Don’t know him lah."
Who’s coming to town? Sun Tah, of course lah! According to my googling, the keyword "Christmas" yielded 137 million web entries on Google, while "Christ" scored 40 million and "Santa" doubled that at 85 million.
What’s Christmas? Well, it’s Christ’s Mass with Mass referring to the Eucharistic liturgy celebrating the birth of the Messiah two thousand years ago. To Christians, the ancient prophecy through Isaiah was thus fulfilled: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end."
This birthday also divides history into two halves. Henceforth it’s either BC or AD; Before Christ or Anno Domini, Latin for in the year of our Lord.) Political correctness now dictates that this be reckoned as BCE and CE; Before the Common Era and the Common Era.
Political correctness now also calls for the Nativity scene and Christmas icons to be removed from public places even in what traditionally have been Christian countries, like England and Australia.
The Bible does not give the exact date of the birth and early followers of the Christ did not celebrate his birthday until the fourth century AD. Birthdays and their celebrations had always been Roman feast days complete with gluttony and orgies.
About 350 AD, Pope Julius set 25 December as the date of Jesus’ birth. This corresponded with the Roman feast of Saturnalia, the festival of the Unconquered Sun. Temples were decorated with greenery and candles, there were feasts and parades with special music, and gifts were given to family and friends.
Among the English Druids, mistletoe was worshiped, and the Saxons used holly and ivy in their winter religious ceremonies. As Christianity spread through Europe, many of the pagan customs and festivities of the winter solstice were absorbed into the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
By the end of the 19th century, most Americans were celebrating a Christmas with all the traditions of today – lighted and decorated trees, Christmas cards, carrots, fruit-cakes, festive parties, shopping and giving gifts.
Christmas today is a global industry to the extent if Christmas sales did not perk, then the whole economy in the first quarter of the New Year is likely to go into a tailspin dragging millions into unemployment.
Immediately following Christmas, new products would be planned for the following Christmas, with orders to be canvassed in the second half of the year and production to begin in the following quarter. The ad guys then get their Santa ready for the final act.
Credit card spending goes into overdrive. Las year, credit card transactions peaked in December with nearly RM36 million of credit line extended, according to Bank Negara. This year Santa is expected to push it higher according to the central bank’s statistics. That’s good news for merchandisers and growth economists.
Then bad news follows from Boxing Day onwards. Credit card debts and defaults. For instance, in Australia the Reserve Bank tally for last Christmas credit card spending reached $26.5 billion (RM77 billion).
Credit card interest charges alone this year is expected to reach $1.2 billion (RM3.5 billion). Credit card profits are also expected to rise as they are expected to charge up to three times more than the official ceiling of 5.7 per cent for interests, some as high as 14 per cent.
Overuse of credit cards at Christmas is sending low and middle income families to the wall, according to the Australian Catholic Weekly Review Online. It said, "At the extreme end, one man sought help and counseling from the St Vincent de Paul Society after he went out of control, accumulating 14 credit cards and racking up a debt of $28,000 (RM82,000). He has since filed for bankruptcy."
In the song "Twelve Days of Christmas", the true love brings to the love gifts by the numbers. But unsung probably was that twelve days after Christmas, the true love and the lover went into withdrawal reeling from their compulsive overspending.
The good news, however, is that they can now avail themselves to a 12-step recovery process made popular by Alcoholic Anonymous. In this case, it’s the 12 Steps of Debtors Anonymous.
Like all AA recovery programmes, the first step begins with: "We admitted we were powerless (in this case, over debt) – that our lives had become unmanageable." The second being having come to "believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanctity."
This takes compulsive spenders to make the third decision, "to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him." From here on, they are on their way to recovery.
The final step acknowledges that, "having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive debtors, and to practise these principles in all our affairs." There’s life after Santa after all.