Friday, November 28, 2008

Is Santa Claus from Kyrgyzstan?

No, its not a premise for a Borat Christmas Special, but an idea that gained some validity after the BBC’s investigative reporters began interviewing some Kyrgyz citizens back in 2007. Santa Claus, but not as we know him?

By: Vanessa Uy

Back in December 22, 2007, the BBC ran a feature news story about how Santa Claus might be from Kyrgizstan(sometimes spelled as Khyrghizstan). The BBC investigative were following the trail of facts, hunches, and other “credible evidences” – like academic studies on old Khyrghiz folk tales – suggesting that Santa Claus – the man behind the generosity of gift-giving during Christmas – is from Kyrgyzstan. If the facts uncovered by their investigation really merits further study, then what’s the problem?

During the airing of that BBC investigative news feature story / news segment back in 2007, the whole Western World was still reeling from the “diplomatic embarrassment” created by the movie Borat – a “Gonzo Journalism” influenced film starring Sacha Baron Cohen which pokes fun at the country of Kazakhstan. The runaway success of Borat capitalized on the Western World’s – or the majority of her inhabitants’ – ignorance about former Soviet-block countries like Kazakhstan. Confusing Kyrgyzstan with Kazakhstan, the West probably viewed the idea that Santa Claus having Khyrgyz origins simply as an April Fool’s joke that came somewhat late – at Christmastime no less.

But that same BBC news feature did create a new cultural phenomenon in our local Sufi Muslim community. Since the concept of generosity is one of the ideals universally held in high esteem to the adherents of Abrahamic Theology, then an idea of a Kyrgyzstan-born Santa Claus is a good thing to them after all. Plus, given that our local Sufi community is probably the only one who appreciates the “artistically better” aspects of American Heavy Metal music, they probably assume that the idea of a Kyrgyz Santa Claus goes seamlessly with the Christmas Heavy Metal Band Trans-Siberian Express. Which is probably the only place where I live that the band has a very significant Southeast Asian fanbase. And besides, a Silk Road savvy Santa Claus really does explain away his somewhat over the top generosity when compared to the accepted generosity norms of Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

If the concept of a Kyrghyz Santa Claus ever becomes widely accepted all over the world, will this forever change the face of Christmas? Well, given that the Catholic Church is probably one of the staunchest critics against Santa Claus and his somewhat materialistic-leaning gift-giving role during the Christmas Season, this particular idea will probably be met with stiff ecclesiastical resistance. After being admonished first-hand by our local Catechism teacher for holding the view that Saint Nicholas is Santa Claus and knowing that those before me had met the same fate during the Reagan era / 1980’s, the Catholic Church will be one of Kyrgyz Santa’s staunchest critics.