Click here for the 2008 Saint Nicholas Day Post.
Today is St Nicholas Day and we will have sort of a fun time. Coloring, crafts and cookies.
Santa and St Nicholas
I have always been sort of an odd duck among my friends in that I don’t really “do” Santa. Even when the oldest was very little I had a bit of a problem with the idea of telling my child that someone in a red suit flew through the air and gave them presents when I know myself that it is actually not true. That may sound somewhat fastidious of me or just crazy, but in reality I think we have struck a good balance between the secular celebration of Christmas (the orgy of consumerism) and Christmas (the nativity of Christ). A good part of that has had to do with our approach to Santa Claus.
Over the years I have discussed our approach to the “Santa thing” many times with various friends and family both online and off. Most the time I am a bit surprised at just how hostile people can be when you say that you “don’t do Santa”. Part of this I understand, the most common thing is for “dear friend or relative” to ask, “why?” and they don’t really appreciate the response. In reality we never started doing Santa because use I just really couldn’t lie to the kids that way. I have had a couple people argue with me endlessly that it isn’t lying to say that Santa is real. I can appreciate the mental gymnastics that go into their arguments, but it just doesn’t fly. To say a Jolly Old Elf dresses up in red and flies about the world giving presents to good little boys and girls is not, by any stretch of the imagination objectively true.
Now I have heard and I do understand all the “magic of the season”, “Harmless fun” , “Spirit of joy and love” , “Childhood memories” and “tradition” arguments. I am by no means even suggesting that anyone else should do what we do. What we do is what we do, I get that you might do something else, I am not saying you are dishonest or hurting your children in any way, I get why you do what you do I just don’t quite agree. I don’t quite get the “Your poor kids!” argument which seems to get tossed my way quite a bit– they enjoy the season very much and look forward to Christmas with all the pleasure of any young children. They don’t miss any of the fun, joy, love, tradition and they have fantastic childhood memories. We just don’t “do” Santa but that doesn’t mean that we toss out the Christmas tree and presents, have no cookies, no stories, forbid the mention or fantasy of Santa, that we don’t hang stockings or sing carols or sip eggnog.
We read stories about Christmas, both the Nativity and the secular stories. The children are in fact delighted with the idea of the secular Santa. But it is along the lines of how they look at Peter Pan or The Wizard of Oz. We do talk about St Nicholas on December sixth. We discuss his life and why he is remembered this time of year, we make “CandyCane Cookies” (the Bishop’s/Shepherd’s staff), some years we go to our parish event or to the Grotto. Some years ago at the Grotto one of the monks dressed as St Nicholas gave the children candy-canes. He didn’t ask what they want for Christmas, he didn’t promise them gifts, but instead he asked them to remember the Baby Jesus and to do their best to be good. That I love. I love seeing the Saints brought to life for our children and I love hearing them promise to remember their Savior and strive to be good. It highlight the biggest intellectual problem I have with Santa Claus. The “gimmies”.
Once, a year or two before Ashley was born, I was at a shopping mall during Christmas. Hectic and in its own way fun. I have often referred to shopping malls as “Temples of Consumerism” not sure where the term originated, but it has stuck in my head. I was looking over from the second level below to the “Santa’s Village” display. Here was the God of consumerism seated in red velvety glory, his liveried attends assisting the supplicants as they approach the throne to tell him their requests. Mothers grooming their tots to catch the perfect picture to accompany the “Christmas Letter” for friends and relatives and leading them up to sit on the big man’s lap. Some of the children were happy and excited, coming forward with letters in hand detailing exactly what they wanted, others horribly afraid many were bored in the line, stressed out parents — all in all it was a really strange affair. Completely commonplace and yet in some part of my brain completely alien. It mad me question the whole “thing”. It was beautiful in a way and yet off-putting as well.
There is no doubt that most adults have wonderful memories of their childhood Christmases. Drifting to sleep Christmas eve hoping to hear the faint tinkle of sleigh bells in the distance, almost believing they do as they slip into dreams of Christmas morning where they will receive the gifts they have been hoping for. It is really an enchanting thing. And yet there is always that “horrible” child in school who learns “the truth” and then tells all their peers. I really shudder to hear how I have heard such children described. One of the other very common things I hear is that my children must somehow be out to ruin the Christmas Joy for all their peers since they aren’t raised with the misconception that Santa is Real. What a sad ignorance of the power of fantasy on children’s minds. Children can delight in and believe in for a moment anything, any fantastical thing they can create in their imaginations. All stories are for the moment real. There are princesses with glass slippers, elves, fairies, teddy bears talk, and toys spring to motion when no one is looking in a child’s world. Santa can be part of that, loved and enjoyed and treasured yet put away in a moment.
Parent’s don’t need to say something is true for their children to enjoy to thought of it. My children love the whole idea of Santa, but they don’t believe in Santa why way the believe in God or England. There has been no crushing moment of “discovery”; I have never had to utter the words “Thems that believe receive thems that don’t don’t”. They slowly outgrow the Santa story the same way they leave behind the puzzle with ten pieces or nursery rhymes. A loved part of happy childhood, but not the big part it is to some others.