Monday, December 24, 2012

rethinking Santa

I've spent the past 11 years as a parent trying to ward off Santa Claus to keep him from spoiling Christmas.

We avoid Santa wrapping paper, Santa movies, Santa ornaments, Santa decorations, and (heaven forbid) Santa songs.

Instead we put up manger scenes, celebrate Advent, and play Handel's 'Messiah,' and we run interference with our kids, trying to un-teach them everything they're picking up from friends (and teachers!) at school about Santa.

Dutch St. Nicholas and Black Peter (public domain image)
But earlier this month I read an article by a Wheaton prof that got me thinking (yes, reading is generally what changes my mind about things. Are you really that surprised?). St. Nicholas started his career as a real person (not a cartoon or a guy dressed up at the mall). He was a Christian bishop in the 3rd/4th century who had a remarkable reputation. Dr. Michael Graves says this about him: "As time passed, his name and memory were associated with a whole host of good causes: he was said to be a defender of the weak, and especially children; he was a protector of the innocent, of sailors, and of travelers generally." Not only that, but he was a defender of orthodoxy at the council of Nicea!

So, while I'm not ready to bring my children to the mall and have them sit on the lap of a seasonal employee and ask for more stuff, maybe it's time I told them about the real St. Nick. In our violent and me-centered culture, we could all use more heroes. And, if gift-giving is inspired in part by this Christian bishop from so long ago, why not say so? Someone known for his generosity is a good role model to have.

My "conversion" came too late this year to start any new traditions with the kids, but next year we'll have to think about how we can emulate the generosity and kindness of a man who lived so long ago. St. Nicholas will take his place among all the other heroes of the faith, like St. Patrick, St. Augustine, John Calvin, and Amy Carmichael. I'm sorry it took me so long.


  1. We have always celebrated St. Nicholas Day (Dec 6th) with our kids. (In fact, one of the boys told me this year that one of the reasons that now, as an adult, that he hates Santa Claus is because he ruined St. Nicholas.) Because I grew up with St. Nicholas, it was a good way to incorporate my childhood memories into our December traditions. We own wooden shoes for all our kids (thanks to a couple of pair brought back from Holland, Europe, and a couple from Holland, Michigan). On Dec 5th, the kids would put the shoes outside their doors or on the dining room table with carrots for the donkey. In the morning, they would be filled with chocolate and nuts, and perhaps one present. We told the stories of the life of St. Nicholas whenever asked about the meaning behind these traditions. I like the simplicity of the event, and my kids continue to want to celebrate as adults.

  2. What did you come up with for this year, Carmen? I'd love to hear! We are muddling through our thoughts and desires for the holiday season and I found this intriguing! Any new post coming soon about how you might incorporate the true St. Nicholas?

  3. Emma,
    Thanks for pushing me on this. No, we haven't thought about what to do this year. (I'm still in dissertation survival mode for the most part :)). We'll have to put our heads together and talk about this. If you have any inspiring ideas, let me know!