Recently, a depressed young woman cried out, “I hate Christmas. It’s all commercial and after all, there really is no Santa Claus!” It certainly makes one ponder. Has this world gone so far as to turn people against Christmas because of the commercialism? And where is Santa Claus after all?

It seems that Santa is recognized as a medium height, fat, jolly but serious with problems (watch all the Christmas movies), white haired man with a short, medium or long beard — depending on the movie, picture or painting — dressed in a fuzzy red coat with white furry — faux, of course — trim and black boots, possibly white gloves.

The one constant is that he lives at the North Pole with an occasional vacation to the tropics for relief from the freezing temperatures.

Beginning the search for Santa led to some surprising findings, most of which were the answers to these questions: Who or what is Santa after all? Does he really wear that suit? Does everyone truly see Santa? What does Santa symbolize?

The first stop was at Santa’s Texas Workshop outside of Falfurrias. Santa’s helpers, and owners — Dorothy, Esther, and Janie Minten — gave a different perception into Santa’s work.

For the 24 years they have been hosting their Christmas House, they have been raising money for the Children’s Heart and Health Institute (CHHI), replaced this year by the Driscoll Children’s Hospital cardiology department. CHHI was founded by Dr. James W. Simpson, now deceased, to bring the doctor to the heart patients at no cost.

His work and the work of his institution saved thousands of lives.

One woman from the Rio Grande Valley came to the Christmas House one year and as the three Minten sisters were explaining about the CHHI, she spoke up.

“My oldest daughter is one of Dr. Simpson’s patients,” she said.

After taking their three-week-old daughter to their regular doctor, he diagnosed a heart problem. The doctor called the institute and was told Dr. Simpson was in McAllen. Rushed to Dr. Simpson, he examined her and said, ‘She’s a blue baby.” She and her mom were flown to Corpus Christi on Dr. Simpson’s plane, with the father following frantically by vehicle.

“By that night she was in surgery. When it came time to pay, Dr. Simpson said to her parents, ‘There’s no charge for this.’ Today the beautiful young woman is in her 20s and married. We went to her wedding,” said Janie, smiling. “In high school she was a swimming champ.”

So, was Dr. Simpson Santa Claus?

“Yes,” said Janie, with a soft smile. “Dr. Simpson captured the spirit of Santa Claus.

“If you look up the history of Santa, it begins with St. Nicholas of Myra who was personally wealthy. As he lived his life in the priesthood and became a bishop, he anonymously gave away his money, doing good for those in need.

“According to legend there was a family with three daughters and no money for dowries, so those girls would never be able to marry. They washed their stockings out every night and hung them by the fireplace. Nicholas dropped the gold coins down the chimney (or through the window) and they landed in the stockings. That’s where the whole spirit of Santa Claus — giving and helping others — started,” Janie said. “God depends on all of us to open our hearts to people and let His love flow through, whether it’s material goods or emotional support.”

The concepts of Christmas and Santa were beginning to take a twist and turn in this reporter’s head.

The Salvation Army has over 2,000 angels on trees. Angels are children who might not have anything if they are not “adopted” by a caring soul. It seems it’s not only individuals who are doing the caring.

Gonzales Elementary in McAllen, where all the kids get involved and bring presents, adopted 600 angels.

“That’s kids helping kids have a better Christmas,” said Lidia Perrera, public relations, Salvation Army. “Barbara Hall with Farmer’s Insurance is working with Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in adopting 1,500 angels from our programs. She makes sure that every single angel gets adopted.”

Texas Trails RV Park adopted 150 angels, the Killer Bees adopted 70, Border Media with KURV adopted 300 angels and Keller Williams adopted 75. This is just a sampling of the many companies and organizations willing to give and help others.

Giving in various forms is happening all across the Valley — Toys for Tots, United Way and many others. Without the commercialism that even this reporter has complained about, would those companies be so willing — and able — to step forward to become Santa’s helpers? Certainly the thoughts of a commercial Christmas begin to change as one watches the domino effect causing such goodness for those who need help and bringing smiles to precious little faces.

It makes one ponder. Does the color of Santa’s suit really matter? Santa, it appears, comes in all ages and sizes, different genders, colors and yes, even different faiths.

Then there are tales of the Salvation Army with their Bell Ringing Santas and their buckets in front of many stores.

Rosemary Tucker, from Aladdin Villas, tells of how a woman, in her mid-40s, emerged from a store with a little girl. Bringing the girl over to the collection bucket, she gave the young girl money and told her to put it in the bucket.

“When I was growing up, (in the northern states) as a young girl we had nothing. The Salvation Army brought us toys and food. I never go past a bucket without putting something in to help somebody else,” she said.

It was starting to become abundantly clear that Santa wasn’t just the red suit. It was the gift of giving that brought Santa to life. Now, whereever this writer looked, there was another form of Santa alive and kicking.

Pepe Cabeza de Vaca at Socialife Magazine reports on the many fundraisers going on in the Valley for such organizations as Habitat for Humanity, Hope Clinic, United Way, March of Dimes, Easter Seals and for the children of the community through various organizations.

Are these not the spirit of Christmas? Does Santa not show clearly here?

Santa, then, seems to appear this time of year but lives in the hearts of millions all the year through in their giving and loving of their fellow humans.

“Christmas is for kids” is the motto we hear all over. But, indeed, Christmas truly is for all persons. Through the investigation for this story, it’s now an effortless task to see Christmas in the true spirit of the Babe born in the manger so long ago. Everywhere one looks, someone is playing Santa Claus — giving and caring — for someone other than their family and friends. Maybe it’s for a neighbor who lost a spouse this year, a visit to a lonely nursing home resident, an abused animal, a donation for someone worse off than they are.

Thomas Valent, dean, Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, explains Santa.

“He’s the spirit of Christmas and stands for love and giving,” he said.

Enjoying taking up the cloak of Santa and training would-be Santas, Thomas said, with a warm HO, HO, HO, of course, “The reason I do the Santa Claus School is because I love to be Santa Claus — it’s an honor and a privilege. When I make a child smile as a Santa Claus it’s such a heartwarming thing, especially when you make believers of the skeptics. The sound of children’s laughter is just God smiling on the earth.”

Started by Charles W. Howard in 1937, the Santa Claus School is the longest-running Santa Claus school in the world.

One of Charles’s most memorable quotes sums up the whole Santa Claus quandary, “To say there is no Santa Claus is the most erroneous statement in the world. Santa Claus is a thought that is passed from generation to generation. After time this thought takes on a human form. Maybe if all children and adults understand the symbolism of this thought we can actually attain Peace on Earth and good will to men everywhere.”

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!