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Nars Padilla, the Poor Santa Claus

POOR SANTA CLAUS. Narciso Padilla or Nars was for nearly 50 years was the city’s poor Santa Claus who tries to bring cheers to indigent children or their family with his various events under the Silahis ng Pasko. Padilla never stopped using the word silahis, which could now mean a homosexual, but for him he goes to its original meaning – ray of hope. “Santa” left for the Great Beyond in March 2019 and Christmas in Baguio was never the same. Here he is seen with former City Social Welfare and Development Officer Betty Fanfasan during the Lucky Christmas Baby. SnP photo

When then SunStar reporter Malen Catajan told me that Mang Nars Padilla was looking for me two weeks before Christmas in 2018, I already knew what he wanted me to do.

Two days later while doing a story at the second floor of the Luisa’s Café, Malen came in and told me that the old man was downstairs.

“Hoy hanap ka ni lakay Nars. He is downstairs,” she said.

So down I went. And the then 84 year old was there with wife tita Sol.

And it was not the old Nars Padilla that I saw, but maybe a ghost of the once bubbly Nars brimming with bravura.

“Could you help run the sports awards,” he asked in voice so weak that almost came as a whisper.

“Sure,” I responded.

“You can get your sponsors and I won’t be interfering but just use the name of my awards,” he replied.

“Sure,” I added although I hold my own version every February.

December is the time for Narciso Padilla – a former college basketball player, a one-time US Navyman, a former broadcaster, news reporter and councilor – when he becomes Santa Claus and who attempts to bring happiness to hundreds if not thousands of children, especially indigents.

It starts early on December 1 when thousands of pre-school kids take Session and Harrison Roads in their colorful Christmas themed costumes and with him as the “Pied Piper” of sorts leading them to the Melvin Jones or at the Baguio athletic bowl.

It started in 1974 when a 30 something broadcaster started leading public elementary school pupils in the street. I was in the second edition as a shepherd wearing a smock made out of rice sack and a “lantern” made of tin can with pine needles inside that when lit emits smoke that could engulf me.

The December 1 Mardi Gras actually used to kick off the Christmas in Baguio celebration and nearly 10 years ago, the Saint Louis University Lantern Parade started and became the day’s culminating event with the Christmas Tree lighting atop Session Road as one of the highlights.

It was a busy December for Mang Nars when in cooperation with the City Social Welfare Development Office would choose the Lucky Christmas Family, an indigent, and on Christmas Day, the Lucky Christmas Baby. The finale was the selection of the Lucky New Year Baby. The “Lucky” ones receive cash, rice, groceries and for the babies, they get diapers.

There was the day for special people where they join sports events like chess and walkathon and even outdo each other in a singing competition.

There was also the Lucky Foreign Visitor which used to be staged during summers and sometimes held at the same time as the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club’s Lucky Summer Visitor.

In between the Christmas events or the Silahis ng Pasko were the TALA awards for the elderlies and the Kafagway Sports Award which later on became the KISLAP or the Kafagway/Kordillera International Sports Luminary Awards Podium.

The last was the reason why he was searching for me early December 2018. He needed me to run it since he was already too tired and juggling too many events at the same time, so “I need you,” he whispered.

Mang Nars is fondly recalled by these children who are mostly adults now, some even with their children, or some grandkids, in tow for the Children’s Mardi Gras.

“You’re such a slave driver,” former Sun Star Baguio editor Sam Bautista once told him, fondly, when the old man was heckling the former for the updates of the Fil-Am Golf Tournament where Mang Nars was the media chair and Bautista and myself were his assistants. Mang Nars could only arrive after lunch and so he heckles us if we have done our duties – clip articles and even covered the results of the finished games which I then write to meet deadline of national and local newspapers.

It has been more than three years since Mang Nars last donned his Santa Claus costume after joining his Creator in March 4, 2019.

The 2018 KISLAP awards proved to be our last event together.

The 2019 Children’s Mardi Gras was also the last after the Department of SWD has stopped pre-school children from joining in such kind of events.

Gone too was the Singing Christmas Tree, when singers were lined up on pedestals that taper as it got higher and so was the silent drills with the Philippine Military Academy.

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