Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Taking back St. Nicholas

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there...

But why stockings? Why does Santa put gifts into stockings? (And why are today's stockings enormous and so obviously not for wearing?!)

According to one story about the real St. Nicholas, the original stockings belonged to three maidens who lived in his province of Lycia.

Their father, having lost his fortune, was unable to provide for their dowries, and the girls were going to be sold into slavery. When Nicholas heard this, he was greatly troubled, and determined to help secretly. Late one evening, after the family's stockings had been hung up to dry, he threw a bag of gold through the window -- and the gift landed in a stocking.
Do you remember the moment when you stopped believing in Santa Claus? Or do you still believe?

Did you debate whether to tell your kids about him? Did you worry that when the spell of childhood magic was broken, you'd be left with a disillusioned, cynical son or daughter who has trouble believing in miracles -- even believing you?

I worried, too. And yet, I couldn't let go of the magic, the miracle of Santa.

Maybe I was especially blessed with faith as a child. Maybe my mother just did things right. I don't remember a moment of disillusionment. I don't remember when I recognized Santa's handwriting as my mother's. I know I did -- but she continued to sign presents "From Santa" even into my adulthood!

I know that finding out one's parents have been filling your stockings has traumatized a lot of children. I didn't want to stop believing in Santa. My mother never made that necessary. I don't remember her lying about it. But she may have mentioned that parents could be elves.

Being one of Santa's elves has been more complicated than I anticipated. For one thing, I realized I hated giving up the credit of my planning, purchasing and generosity to a man in a funny red suit I'd never even met. But therein lies my lesson...
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
--Matthew 6:2-4 
One thing seems clear, St. Nicholas wasn't looking for credit for his generosity.

I don't want my kids to stop believing in the possibility of unseen generosity. I'm determined to remain a faithful elf. But the questions are coming.

St. Nicholas, please help!

Is Santa Claus real? Absolutely. But most of the modern images we see don't look much like him.

St. Nicholas was a real boy, an orphan in third century Asia Minor, whose parents were Christians, and who grew to be a faithful servant of our Lord. He was the youngest person ever to be appointed a church bishop, and was revered for his faithfulness, charity, humility and commitment to justice. More churches are named for him than any other saint.

Bishop Nicholas served on the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 335 A.D., and so had a hand in writing The Nicene Creed. Miraculous stories followed him even after his death on December 6, 343.

In many countries, Santa doesn't come on Christmas Eve. He comes the night of December 5, so that the children find gifts from St. Nicholas on the morning of his feast day.

Only for the last 200 years or so, beginning in the United States, have the traditions of St. Nicholas Day been combined with our celebration of Christmas.

Did you do anything to observe St. Nicholas Day yesterday?

I was less prepared than I hoped to be. I gathered books about St. Nicholas from the library, and we broke out the Veggie Tales version of St. Nicholas: A Story of Giving last week. Our busy weekend interfered with my desire to have the house decorated and gingerbread cookies baked.

But, of course, St. Nicholas wasn't really about gingerbread. We had our friends over, and store-bought cookies sufficed. The kids wanted to play the Dreidel game, so the St. Nicholas stories waited until later.

The Real Santa Claus: Legends of Saint Nicholas (Phyllis Fogelman Books)Eldest was especially interested in the beautifully-written stories about Bishop Nicholas in "The Real Santa Claus" by Marianna Mayer. Littlest enjoyed the tale of "The Baker's Dozen."

I'm intrigued by the idea of separating Santa's activities from the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus, although I don't know that I'm ready to change our Christmas morning tradition. I do share the concern about Santa Claus and gift-receiving interfering with the celebration of the coming of the Messiah.

I have always told my boys that Santa loves Jesus and the gifts that arrive from him on Christmas morning are his way of celebrating Christ's birth and teaching us generosity. We have a long way to go to emulate St. Nicholas's example of caring for the poor and needy as Jesus told us to do, but we are learning.

Have you told your children about Bishop Nicholas of Myra? Does the Spirit of Christmas live on at your house in the form of Santa?


Becky said...

Amanda, I share your dilemma. I want my kids to have the magic of Santa, but not lose its focus. But I also like your idea of Santa being embodied secret generosity. I think there is much joy in giving...like the magi who gave gifts to Jesus. I've also thought of celebrating St. Nick's and Christmas separately. This year, the girls decided to forgo Christmas gifts for gifts to buy animals and what not through various charities, but I think I am going to fill their stockings just the same from santa and leave out cookies, too. But my oldest already is questioning...she thinks Santa is a robot and the flying reindeer are on batteries! I am relieved she still believes in the tooth fairy!

Phyllis said...

This is an absolutely beautiful post. Exactly how I feel about our good Saint.

Cheri said...

wow! we recite the nicene creed on sundays as a congregation {well, one sunday a month...the rest of the time it's the apostle's creed}, but i had no idea the real st. nick helped to write it! now you've inspired me to research it more and learn with my girls who the real "santa claus" was. :)

Mirjam said...

In Holland, people celebrate Sinterklaas/St Nicholas on the 5th of December. We've never told our kids that it's actually the good old man that puts the presents in their shoes (the weeks/days before the 5th). But they still believed.

I was brought up with my parents telling me that he did exist long ago, but not anymore. That has never been a problem, and I really enjoyed the whole Sinterklaas thing.

We didn't do Father Christmas and still don't (now living in the UK), but our kids will get presents with Christmas, because it's part of living here. We're very flexible ;)) so if we go back to Holland, we might change to the 5th again :)

Candice said...

This is a great post--one I will show my husband. This topic has been coming up a lot in the past couple weeks as we're getting ready to bring our first child into our family! When I grew up, my mom always told us that Santa Claus was the "Spirit of Giving" and as we got older, it transitioned into a lesson about generosity rather than a lesson about a man in a red suit who gives us all the toys we want. I really like that, but learning about the real St. Nick sounds great also. I'm sure we'll figure something out, but maybe switching the days would be good, too! THanks for the post--now my mind is swimming :)

mandi said...

We observed St. Nick day for the first time this year. We had been studying the culture and festivals of the Czech Republic leading up to this (they also observe St. Nick day!) so it tied in to our lessons. I wish I would have seen that copy of the real Santa Claus before hand. I basically told them the story and tried to paint the imagery best I could! We put out our shoes on Sunday night and they woke up to chocolate coins and a small notebook that I had embellished.

We do not "do" Santa Claus in our home. And it was hard at first. But the first time my eldest asked if he was real (and she was only TWO!!!) I just couldn't lie to her. So that set the standard for us. We still do stockings and presents, but they know that they came from us or each other. When our eldest was 4 she asked if we could pretend Santa came. So, we do this, just like we pretend we are Peter Pan or fairies. We put out cookies and milk but they know the truth, we don't dwell on it, but we also don't cover their eyes when we walk by the Santa in our town square!

It is important to us that our children understand that Santa was a man that lived long, long ago. Only God is omnipotent and omnipresent- these attributes do not belong to man. Also, we didn't want to confuse putting our faith in someone unseen (Santa) who is later confirmed to be a fraud! HAHA!!! that was a little dramatic : ).

With all that said- I think the tradition of Santa is a lovely one. So, to repeat myself here, we talk about the real man St. Nick and how we celebrate his generosity by being generous ourselves. I agree with you, I like having St. Nick day- where we celebrate generosity- being separate from Christmas day.

I should also add that we do not think people who observe Santa are making a mistake! We are happy to respect the decisions others make for their families, just as we hope others respect our decisions (lots of people think we are cruel!!!).

SarahS said...

We've talked a little about the real st nick, but haven't celebrated the day before. We've always told our boys that the "santa claus" portrayed around christmas is pretend. There was no way I could lie to them about that. We are training them to believe in unseen realities (angels ect...) and thought it would be damaging to that belief to find out your parents had lied to you about santa claus. Obviously by the stories here some have found a way to do this in a wonderful way that adds to a person's belief. We talk about the sharing gifts as a way to remember Jesus' gift to us of Himself, and we do it because we love to give gifts to each other. I do try to find ways to keep the focus from being solely on receiving gifts. Easier with one child than another:) One of the things we do is give 2 boxes to Operation Christmas Child. The boys love picking out the things for the boxes and later, looking at the pictures of excited children in impoverished areas who received them.

appledapple said...

Our priest back in Virginia did the most WONDERFUL homily about St. Nicholas, I looked up the url to share with you here:

I loved this post because it reminds me so much of how we keep St. Nicholas and the birth of Christ seperate as well, it truly is a magical and beautiful time of year!

appledapple said...

Oh, sorry on the link...you have to scroll down a bit to see the video.

Jessica said...

Great post about St. Nicholas Day. I was just browsing for ideas for St. Nicholas Day party at my kids school. We actually celebrate St. Nicholas Day in our family because my husband is from Milwaukee and St. Nicholas Day is big there. He also grew up Catholic so our kids go to a Catholic school but we are Methodists. Our kids know about St. Nicholas and as they are growing older my hope is to involve more tradition about helping others/generosity. We open stockings on St. Nicholas morning and don't do them on Christmas day. This year I am thinking of either having them help me donate shoes at church. Another idea that I read of at some point, was to give them money in their stocking that they get to choose how to give away.

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