The bishop of Noto in Sicily stunned schoolchildren last week when he dropped a bombshell during an arts festival -- telling them Father Christmas wasn't real, CNN reported.
"No, Santa Claus does not exist. In fact, I would add that the red of the suit he wears was chosen by Coca Cola exclusively for advertising purposes," Antonio Staglian told the children, according to Sicilian media.
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Italian media reported that the comments came during an event held on the feast day of Saint Nicholas, the initial inspiration for the figure of Santa Claus and widely known for his generosity.
However, after the bishop's comments went viral, the Diocese of Noto posted an apology on its Facebook page, written by Staglian's 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. Staglian's intention," the statement said.
Paolini said the bishop's aim was to "reflect on the meaning of Christmas and the beautiful traditions that accompany it with greater awareness and "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 added.
Staglian also revisited the comments in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica published Friday, 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," Staglian told the paper, adding that "the Christmas atmosphere of lights and shopping has taken the place of Christmas."
He said "consumer culture" had obscured the true meaning of the festival, which was a message of giving -- illustrated by the birth of the baby Jesus, who was "born to give himself to all humanity."
The apology concurred, saying at Christmas "we receive the Gift par excellence, Jesus Christ," and suggested "showing up for someone we have been neglecting or ignoring for a long time or mending a damaged relationship" as a more meaningful gift.
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Bishop tells kids Santa Claus doesn't exist, Coca Cola chose his red suit for advertising