We “do” Santa Claus at our house. You might be surprised…
That means we have a special gift near the fireplace that is “from Santa” … and that the gifts in the stockings are from Santa too. Somewhere around age 7-10, depending on the child, we let them in on the “secret” …
Being a therapist, I have certainly heard about people honestly traumatized by feeling like their parents lied to them! (ditto tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, etc.)… Also, there is always the risk of distracting any attention from Christ, whose day it is.
So, with those risks in mind, why would we do this? How?
Glad you asked…
First, I recommend reading my articles on the history of Halloween and other holidays, which are included here too.
Apparently, Nicholas was around in the 3rd century (200’s) in a village called on the Southern coast of Turkey, apparently (according to the St. Nicholas Center). The story is that his wealthy parents died when he was young and the young man spent his inheritance taking care of the poor and needy because of his beliefs in following Jesus. Later, he was made the Bishop of Myra.
Later, Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned for his faith by the Emperor of Rome.
He died on December 6th 343 in Myra. The date of his death became a day of celebration… Dec 6th is apparently Dec 19th on the Julian calendar. So, already the nearness of the day of remembering him is very close to the arbitrary and yet intentional date of the Christ’s Mass – Dec 25th.
The story of him hiding a marriage dowry in the drying stockings in the house of a poor man with three daughters… this and later miracles attributed to him that virtually always were connected to children, linked him irrevocably with children and the giving of gifts to them. In the Roman Catholic world, he is the patron saint of children.
In Europe he is still celebrated on Dec 6th or another day near there – generally with giving gifts to children. In much of the world, he rides a horse (the 8 Tiny Reindeer were an invention of (the author’s identity is debated) the American, Clement Moore, who wrote “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” in 1823. Americans know this poem as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”)… so children leave carrots out for his horse rather than cookies by the chimney (apparently also a Moore invention).
Anyway, through poetry and Christmas specials and more, Saint (“Santa”) Claus (shortened of Ni”colas”) has become an utterly secular character… which does not honor him or his savior.
So, when the time comes for a child to be “in on the secret” of the truth of the actual gift giver, what we do is talk about the real person and how his efforts at charity in addition to and maybe in response to the Wise Men (who likely didn’t even come at the child’s birthday, much less date-of-birth) created a cultural tradition for much of the Western world… and Eastern too – the giving of gifts, especially to children, on Christmas day.
We compare it to when a great grandparent sends money to us in order to purchase a gift for one of our children. We give them the present in Gigi’s name. The gift says “To _________, from Gigi.” She is the thought behind it. We give presents in “his honor” …
In the same way, so that our children can continue to enjoy the “magic” of Christmas along with the sanctity of Christmas (to the degree one does not cancel out the other). I see nothing wrong with honoring Nicolas so long as we worship only Jesus… Nicolas was a good man, it seems and an early follower of our savior.
As always it is my view on stuff like this, the enemy of faith is not fun or even myth or legend or fiction or other things necessarily (they may be, but they are not automatically)… etc. the enemy of our faith is secular thinking. When we remove God from anything… anything in this life, we are in opposition to His work in our lives!
So far, our kids have enjoyed and even appreciated this way of doing things. Then getting to be part of the “Santa” gifts is fun for them later.
Now, I totally understand why many Christian families stay away from anything other than specifically and exclusively Jesus at Christmas… for sure! I really respect different ways different families deal with these questions. I totally agree that Christ must stay the focus and priority of Christmas… though no less than the other days of life, right?
We always wrestle with the issues too in this season of rabid buying and reckless materialism in which the world celebrates yet another opportunity to drink fine alcohol in excess and pay the minimum attention to family so they can ignore then later with less guilt and take a special moment to either tip a cup to the creator and savior of the world by visiting a church for the second time this year (or take a special moment to outwardly defy said savior) … can we protect our kids (and selves) from the secular materialism and still celebrate? It ain’t easy.
I have considered it myself… but so long as what we are still focused on the sacred – that which is good, holy, pure, etc (Phil 4:8) … and via those things we worship and keep our eyes on Jesus and what all His coming means, I think we are still following the star.