After that, I'm going to end Jollibee (the mascot for the popular fast food chain here in the Philippines.)
Before you think I'm some sort of maniacal supervillain (I'm not), or a frothing at the mouth crazy person (Ok, ya got me there), let me explain.
Around Christmas time of 2016, a friend was looking for someone to volunteer to dress up as Santa Claus for a children's party in Cebu. But these weren't just any children, but little kids from poor families afflicted with cancer, so of course, I said yes. I even managed to secure a full Santa Claus suit, and the appearance at the home-based center in Cebu was a hit.
Fast forward one year and I was eager to volunteer again, armed with upgrades in the beard and belly department. And Everlasting Hope confirmed that they were happy to have me.
So I flew to Cebu with my Santa suit carefully packed and took a habal habal to the event center inside a mall where they were having the Christmas party this time.
I quickly changed in the bathroom into my red shiny pants and jacket, strapped on my black belt, threw on my Santa hat, and donned my flowing white fake beard.
Now looking like Santa and ready to spread Christmas spirit, I checked in with the nice volunteers working the table out front.
They were pleased to see me, but I was told that there would be a slight delay. In fact, Jollibee was in the room at the moment. Over the sound of jubilant little cheers of children brainwashed by spaghetti and fried chicken, I understood that he would be another 15 minutes or so. They told me in all seriousness that I had to wait out here in the hallway until he was finished.
It turns out that Jollibee and Santa Claus can't be in the same room at the same time at these appearances – it's even in his contract. (I'm not making this up!)
So I waited there patiently, sweat starting to pour down my face and the red suit starting to itch.
"Hey there, Santa, I'm Tony Stark!" someone said as they slapped me on the back. I turned around, and it was Iron Man/Tony Stark - or a very good likeness, there to see the children, too.
But instead of a full Iron Man suit, this Tony Stark only had one mechanical arm, a little headset, and a perfectly aligned goatee like Robert Downey Jr. His Iron Man arm even had a bright light beaming out of the palm, which he almost blinded me with when he went to shake my hand.
No matter, I was ready to go on.
"Umm, we're going to bring in Iron Man quickly for just a few minutes and then have you come in last," they corrected me.
As I sat in the lobby, feeling a little dizzy the nylon beard starting to unravel and get in my mouth, I heard the children go bonkers when Tony Stark walked in. Over the next thirty minutes, he dazzled them with superhero trivia, games, and jokes about the Hulk. Fake-Tony Stark even had a gleeful assistant, who gave out Iron Man prizes and toys to the kids. Dam, I didn't even have one elf.
"Ok, you're up next," they told me. I was led to the front of the room, too. After another 10 minutes of talking, Iron Man introduced me and handed me the microphone, waving as made a star-studded exit, little kids running after him.
"Merry Christmas!" I said, my voice cracking with the mic's feedback.
Nothing. The kids barely looked in my direction.
"Ho ho ho?"
Finally, there was a merciful smattering of applause from the employees and volunteers.
"Santa Claus will now be available for photos with the Christmas tree."
I was relegated to the back of the room, near the face painters. Luckily, they gave me a plastic bag filled with candy to pass out to the kids. But the looks on their precious little faces said, "We want Iron Man." (I also know this because they actually told me, "We want Iron Man.)
Telling my American buddy Kyle about this later over a drink in Cebu, he laughed hysterically.
"Man, one of my Filipino friends just told me that Santa Claus really isn't that big of a deal here."
In the United States, Santa Claus represents everything fun and good about the holiday season. The big fat man from the North Pole IS Christmas.
But in the Philippines, the list of people kids are more impressed with includes just about any superhero, Jollibee, Ronald McDonald and even that creepy KFC guy.
Damn you, Iron Man! You with your one-armed suit and perfect goatee and gleeful assistant are killing Christmas!
Driving home from the mall that day on a habla habal, still in my Santa Claus suit as the Filipinos we passed scoffed and raised an eyebrow, I vowed that next year, I was going to be ready. This is war!
I'm going to bring more candy, have more games, and recruit a squadron of Elven assistants. I might even kidnap a baby caribou and bring him in as my reindeer.
Or, since Santa Claus isn't a big deal here, I can rethink my whole strategy and dress like someone else.
Who is bigger and better than Iron Man AND Jollibee?
Captain America? That might fly in the U.S., but there isn't a Captain Philippines.
Duterte? That costume would be hard to pull off, and could land me in jail.
I've got it! Jesus Christ!
(I'm not cursing – I actually mean I'll dress like Jesus Christ.)
Not only does he represent Christmas, but he HAS to be popular with Filipinos. In fact, if everyone in attendance doesn't clap and show proper reverence, they'll feel guilty and be subject to eternal damnation. Perfect!
I can tell my Elf assistants to dress like wise men, instead, and our caribou can easily be converted to a camel. I'll even make Coca-Cola out of water as a magic trick.
Jesus Christ is going to PULVERIZE Iron Man and SQUASH Jollibee next time!
Only 352 days until Christmas, and I'm already getting in the spirit.
(Originally published in the Dumaguete Metro Post.)