Monday, December 6, 2010

Our First St. Nicholas Day

Hello everyone! How does your family handle St. Nicholas/Santa Claus? I am really curious about the different ways families within the church choose to handle this.

I myself grew up in a household where we simply didn't do Santa. Period. Christmas was Only About Jesus' Birthday, and my mother would exclaim how she couldn't understand all the parents who were "lying to their children about Santa!" Our family celebrated with a nativity play, hors d'oeuvres, dinner, gift giving, caroling around the piano and dessert on Christmas Eve night. The timing of this party was a family tradition passed down from my conservative Dutch immigrant great grandparents, who also did not do Santa. So there's no room for Santa with a schedule like that: if you are opening gifts the night before Christmas, there's no confusion about where these gifts came from. They came from your family. Ahem.

My husband, who comes from a different denomination within Protestant Christianity than my parents, had a different sort of Christmas than we did. They did Santa: their stockings were from him. And only little girls and boys who were asleep when Santa visited got the privilege of receiving gifts from him. My husband Jeff has fond and happy memories surrounding his anticipation of Santa's visit and the wonder of opening gifts from him.

When we got engaged back in 2007 and were doing marriage prep workbooks, really it was just Santa and one other minor theological point that caused us pause. Hm....can we find a middle ground on the role of Santa within our family's celebration of Christmas? or should we call off the wedding? Needless to say, we decided it was something we could somehow work out!

This is our first Advent/Yuletide season where our attitude/mention of St. Nick begins to matter, as our daughter is 19 months and absorbs our every word eagerly.

Ach, what's a mother to do?

In one of my favorite books, Mrs. Sharp's Traditions, the author comes close to addressing this issue in a constructive way. Here's what she says:

For parents who feel frustrated by the fact that Santa Claus's visit inevitably overshadows their religious observance of the birth of Christ, a visit from St Nicholas can help tremendously....a celebration of St. Nicholas Day can satisfy a deep desire in children to believe in a benevolent and generous gift giver who rewards the good.....Mrs. Sharp's children have been taught that it is St. Nicholas who inspires us to prepare our Christmas gifts for others. (Mrs. Sharp's Traditions p 232)

And she suggests that on December 6 the family celebrate St. Nicholas Day. In typical Mrs. Sharp fashion she has a rather elaborate plan for what that might look like, involving setting out carrots or hay for his horses the night before. The morning of Dec. 6 the children find Christmassy goodies, chocolate gold coins and "one longed-for gift from each child's wish list"(232).

I like this idea, yet it leaves me with some misgivings, too, because once again it seems like a parent would be, as my mother would put it "lying to their children!" I pause. I mull this over and see how I can work with this general celebratory plan and yet replace the lies with truths and fun.

As our Elena is only 19 months old I wanted to
-establish a nice little tradition for December 6 of each Advent season
-keep things Simple
-honor God and tell the truth
-introduce St. Nicholas as a person who loved God.

So, feeling excited and very much like a Mommy-Christmas-Elf-with-a-Plan, I bought and wrapped gifts for each of us and put them in a Jolly St. Nick gift bag which I whisked out after our scripture reading at the end of dinner. And all I said was something like:

"This is St. Nicholas Day. St. Nicholas was a person who loved God. Maybe he looked like this (I pointed to the portly fellow in red on the bag). Here are gifts for us!"

How's that for simple? Ha ha! I just had to skip over any kind of insinuation that the gifts were from St. Nicholas, because that does not sit well with me.

We all opened our simple festive gifts - we each got a nutcracker! Even my dear husband Jeffrey was pleased with his. Little Elena held hers and waved at it, saying "Hi. Hi." over and over. When Jeff moved the lever thing to make it look like the nutcracker was talking to her she was really impressed!

And Elena also received a sheet of window decals of a nativity scene, just to keep the focus where it should be, you know?

Phew. So that was our very first St. Nicholas Day, and I hope that over the years I'll grow more comfortable with some sort of fun plan to make it even more interesting than that.

Please, does anyone have any ideas on how to deal with the whole Santa issue in a positive way, even if it is on a day that is not Christmas? I am eager to hear of different ways to do this.


  1. We let our kids know the story of Santa Claus, as my 6 yr old daughter says, "Santa was a very nice man, lots of people love him and he's dead". She understands that he lived a very long time ago and he was a very good man who went out of way to help children in need. And yes our basic principle behind raising them this way is because we don't want to fill their heads with a belief in a false person who has a lot in common with God only to let them find out he's not real and that we lied to them. They still love CHRISTmas and all the magicalness of spending it together as a family for the right reason-JESUS!

  2. I was raised in a non-denominational church. Because the Bible did not specifically tell us to celebrate Christ's birth (but it was celebrated weekly along with his death and resurrection each week for communion) we celebrated Christmas as a time of family and giving. We talked about Jesus' birth because it was convenient to do so, but we also talked about it throughout the year. So, Christmas is not overwhelmingly religious for me. Actually, it is unlikely that Jesus was born in December anyway. It is more important the He lives, than the details of his birth. If we had needed to know when to celebrate, we would have been given a date and more information (like Easter).

    So, we did Santa and believed that Santa was that wonderful impulse in all of our hearts to do for others and make them happy. Ultimately, for Christians, Jesus gives us that impulse.

    I am sure that whatever you and your family decide, you will make the right decision for you.

  3. Hi! I came to visit from the Snowflake tea the snowflake cookies!

    I found this post very interesting, as I/we have been struggling with this very issue for several years now. My daughter is 7 this year, and we did the santa thing until 3 years ago. (It was sooo fun, and she was sooo cute...ya know how it goes!)

    I'll just throw out some things to think about.
    First, one must determine if they are Catholic or Protestant? St. Nick is a Catholic saint. Wikipedia has a lot of interesting information regarding St. Nicholas. Also check their page on Veneration of the dead. (St. Nick is venerated by many, actual official patron saint of Greece.) Also, check out wikipedia on "Nicolaism." I've been told (through Protestant lines) that St. Nick is actually of the Nicolaitans, but I haven't put it all together yet, am still looking for resources. Might be an interesting explanation for why St. Nick is so fat and jolly, though!

    Simply googling some key words will bring you lots of interesting reading as well. Why are Protestants adopting the 'baptized' paganism of Catholocism?

    Hard questions to ask oneself, hard to sort through the emotions, too. I wish you well as you continue to search and explore for answers for your precious family!

    As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.