Christmas is a time of joy and cheer, and perhaps for many of us, some stress as well. The sounds, smells, the shopping, the cooking … it certainly is one of my favorite times. The most wonderful time of the year (so the song says)! And front and center in this narrative of the season: Santa Claus.
Now, I could get into the sociology of a religious Christmas versus a cultural Christmas, but I’ll spare you that today. But let’s talk about Santa Claus. Before my kids could talk, much less truly understand why we celebrated Christmas, they could say “ho ho” when they saw a picture or figure of Santa Claus. I love the magic that Santa brings. And I’m acutely aware of how fleeting that magic is, with my oldest turning seven and asking many questions.
But the religious side of me struggles with the overwhelming role Santa holds in our Christmas season. I have made specific decisions for our girls to try to balance this: attending church weekly during Advent, having nativities out as decor, reading biblical based Christmas stories. I will admit – I’m not an all or nothing. Santa and little baby Jesus can coexist.
As I think through what traditions I want to establish in this quest for balance, I have decided to adopt one that my church had when I was younger. As Episcopalians, we observed Saint Nicholas’ feast day, December 6th, with a service and visit from St Nicholas himself. The kids would leave their shoes in the back of the church, returning afterwards to an orange and coins in them. It was magical.
Reading more about Saint Nicholas, he may just be the answer I need for my conundrum. St. Nicholas, a fourth century Bishop known for his generosity, is known as Sinterklaas in Holland, where he would distribute sweets to children on his December 6th feast day. The Dutch brought this tradition to colonial America, and the modern tradition of Santa Claus is said to be born.
Grappling with this idea of Santa Claus’ role in my children’s Christmas traditions, I am introducing the traditions and story of St. Nicholas this year. I will have them leave their shoes out (oh – that won’t be a problem, they do this anyway!) and I’ll put gold coins and an orange in their shoes. Upon finding them in the morning, we will talk about this benevolent Bishop from the past named Nicholas, who became a saint. As my girls get older, we can talk about the tradition of Santa and connect the two – I’ll admit for now that I’m perfectly happy letting the jolly man be a magical element of the season.