((I’m so glad you asked….))
People are putting up Christmas trees early this year as we are all desperate for familiar anchors that will hold. We long for the comfort of traditions, the sights and sounds of the season, and what could be a more common sight than Santa Claus? Except this year there are no storefront Santas….. sigh.
Weaving together the wonder of Christmas involves one part birth of our Savior and one part life of a saint. The character of Santa was based on a real-life saint–Nicholas, to be exact. It would be easy to blame our culture and their cashing in, literally, on the character of Santa Claus, but let’s not be so hasty. You might be surprised to learn the real story of St. Nick.
NICHOLAS WAS A REAL SWELL GUY
St. Nicholas of Myra, from a village in modern Turkey. The church calendar recognizes his generous life with the feast day of St. Nicholas on December 6. And no wonder; He was a generous man as well as a champion of the poor, employing people to make clothing for the needy and distributing food to the hungry. One of the best-known stories about him provides a toehold on the origin of Christmas stockings. (Sorry.)
Nicholas had a friend, a wealthy shipping merchant, who lost all of his ships and their cargo during a violent storm. The man was devastated because he had three daughters of marrying age and with this loss went any chance of contributing wealth to their dowries. Nicholas wanted to help. He had the resources, but he knew his friend would hesitate to take charity. Nicholas came up with a plan; after dark one night, he dropped a bag of gold coins through the open window of the eldest daughter’s room. Some of the coins fell into a stocking that had been hung out to dry. His generous act became the tradition we have hundreds of years later of hanging those stockings “by the chimney with care.”
If your family celebrates the birth of Jesus as the central focus of Christmas, bringing Santa into the mix can be sticky business. Some families deal with that in a stellar way. One family I know observes the church feast day of St. Nicholas as the day they open their family stockings. You may consider doing this, using it not only as an opportunity to tell your children about the real St. Nick but also to spread out the bounty of Christmas morning to more than a single day.
When I posed the Santa question on social media a couple of Christmases ago, my friend Marcie responded, “We do full-out Santa. Make lists, leave the fireplace doors open so he can get in the house, cookies and milk, carrots for the reindeer. The biggest and best present is left until Christmas Eve and it’s from Santa. Childhood is so fleeting, I’m going to eke out every bit of magic I can before my kids are too old to believe anymore.”
“Christmas,” she continued, “is absolutely the day we celebrate Jesus and his birthday. My kids have never questioned why Santa exists on Jesus’ birthday. It’s two completely separate things in their minds.”
I also asked my daughter, now almost 41, what she remembered about Santa growing up.
“I don’t think you and Dad ever fully explained Santa to us. We knew of course the reason for the season, but I think you left my brother and I to our own imaginations as far as who Santa was. There was always something magical about the possibility of him really existing and coming down our chimney to our house. However, I do remember one Christmas you and Dad were up really early setting up presents and we had to stay in our rooms ’til they were ready…but come Christmas morning we always knew it was about Jesus.”
I’m not sure about our Christmas parenting gap in regards to Santa, but I’m grateful my children felt some kind of magic and mystery about Christmas morning. Like Marcie said, kids grow up way too fast.
There is clearly nothing “spiritual” or not in a family’s decision to celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus in the midst. If this has been an issue for you and your family and you have wondered about what to do, consider embracing the spirit of giving that St. Nicholas’ life embodied and tell your kids why you include him. The character of Santa Claus is based on the life of a real person who showed us what sacrifice and Christlike giving looked like.
And goodness knows we can all use a dose of that spirit this year!
((Dear Readers, this an excerpt from my book “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas.” You can order a copy over on the sidebar. Thank you, friends.))