Our oldest son is three and a half this Christmas, and we had to do something about Santa. Long before we had children, we decided that we weren’t going to “do” Santa. We wanted our children’s first thought of Christmas to be Christ’s birth, and not the jolly old elf who brings them a world of toys.
But as it turns out it isn’t as simple as that.
Santa Claus is everywhere and there is no ignoring him. Plus too, I didn’t want to use language like “Santa isn’t real” since I knew John would be the kid that would go back to his preschool and helpful inform all his shining eyed classmates that dear old Santa doesn’t really exist.
During our year in Copenhagen, we attended an ecumenical Lutheran church that followed the church calendar. Before that I pretty much thought the “church calendar” was limited to Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July picnic. In Denmark though, we went to a church and lived in a country that followed the traditional church calendar: advent, Christmas, epiphany, Ash Wednesday, the full Holy Week including Easter Monday, and on and on. And it was an incredible, enriching experience.
There are also all these feasts days for giants of the Christian faith including Saint Nicholas who was the Bishop of Myra in the fourth century. He was known for being a particularly kind and generous pastor who, the legend goes, in the middle of a cold winter night dropped bags of gold coins through the window into the shoes of a family of girls who were otherwise doomed for prostitution. His feast day is December 6th.
In hopes of teaching our kids about the original Santa Claus we started celebrating Saint Nicholas Day this year. We taught them the story of Saint Nicholas (there are a number of great books and other resources appropriate for children listed here by an acquaintance of mine) and putting chocolate gold coins in their shoes the morning of December 6th.
We also emphasized how Saint Nicholas gave to people in need, and how we should be Saint Nicholas to people in our community who are in need. This year we practiced being Saint Nicholas by participating in Angel Tree. John and I went shopping for a 4-year-old boy, and I was glad John got to experience the giving side of Christmas before the receiving.
“Aside from the obvious disparities between Saint Nicholas and the secular Santa Claus, perhaps the most poignant difference between them can be seen in the nature of the gifts they give. While Santa has his bundle of toys, the gift that Saint Nicholas gives is nothing short of freedom from poverty and desperation. The life of Saint Nicholas is an example of faith made flesh in actions of true charity” (Neuhaus, God With Us p. 40).