What do we do with Santa Claus at Christmas? Perhaps you are perfectly happy incorporating him into your Christmas celebration, or perhaps you are looking for a new way to teach your kids about him. If this is you, read on for a unique way to present him this Christmas.
by Cheryl Ikenouye
I remember seeing St. Nicholas Day (December 6) on the calendar when I was a child. However, we never celebrated it and I didn’t know much about it until I was in my 30’s.
During that time, we lived in BC while my husband worked on his Master’s degree at Regent College in Vancouver. Those were difficult years for me – being away from family, friends, familiarity, and sunshine for nearly half of the year. They were good years, though, because we were forced to make our own traditions as we celebrated many holidays without extended family.
It was then that I learned the saying “put something where your eye can see it, so your eye can remind your heart”. I was privileged to hear one of the Regent Professor’s wives speak on building family traditions around the Christian holidays. Martha Zimmerman had done extensive research on the history of the holidays we celebrate, wrote her thesis on it and then published a book called Celebrating the Christian Year.
Thus started my journey to create traditions that were meaningful and focused on Jesus, because it is so easy to get caught up with the commercialism and forget why we celebrate.
Traditions can hold our family together and give us a sense of belonging and security. At the same time they can become meaningless and impose certain restrictions. The balance is sticking to age-old traditions and yet having the insight and courage to move beyond that in order to keep them meaningful.
When my children were small, I wondered what to do with “Santa Claus”. I didn’t want to deny them of fun, but I also didn’t want to endorse someone who would only give them gifts if they were good. This is so opposite of Jesus, who gives and gives even when our performance is lacking. Then I learned about the real Saint Nicholas!
Saint Nicholas was born in AD 280, in Myra, a seaport village in what is now called Turkey. He was born to a wealthy couple, who both died of the plague when Nick was only nine years old. Arrangements were made for his uncle, who was a Christian, to raise him. His uncle taught Nicholas about the Lord and led him to Christ.
One of the best known stories about him reveals his Christian character. Nicholas had a friend, a wealthy shipping merchant, who lost all of his ships and their cargo during a violent storm. The man was devastated, especially because he had three daughters of marrying age. During those days a dowry was required in order for a girl to marry. Nicholas wanted to help. He had the resources, but he knew his friend would be hesitant to take charity.
After dark one night, Nicholas dropped a bag of gold coins through the open window of the eldest daughter’s room. Some of it fell into a stocking that had been hung out to dry.
For the remainder of his life he cared for the poor. He employed people to make clothing for the needy, distribute food to the hungry, and make simple wooden toys for the children. Nicholas often baked bread, mixing in sugar and exotic spices. He delighted in passing out the “gingerbreads” to the children. He died on December 6, around AD 343.
One of the best ways to deal with the confusion of Santa and Jesus during the Christmas season is to teach the truth.
The celebration of St. Nicholas Day, on December 6, provides a way without compromising your beliefs.
At the beginning of December, we set out our Saint Nicholas (Santa) decorations. Then on December 6, we open our stockings. In keeping with the stories from the life of St Nicholas, everyone is given a stocking filled with little gifts.
- chocolate gold coins because Nicholas tossed bags of gold through the open window of his friend’s house
- a small toy (possibly wooden) remembering Nicholas hired a wood-carver to make toys for the children. As our children got older, I gave them each an ornament for the Christmas tree.
- a favorite food item, remembering his generosity in feeding the people
- a gingerbread boy or girl, remembering how he baked spicy breads to distribute to the children
After St Nicholas Day, we put the Santa decorations away and prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child.
When I started this tradition, I didn’t know how it would go over or how long it would last. However, our adult children still ask “When is St Nicholas day? Are we going to open stockings then?” In some ways, my kids think they get the best of both worlds and enjoy spreading out the celebration.
Another tradition that we haven’t been as faithful with is to give baking to neighbors a few days before Christmas. Saint Nicholas spent his life giving and Jesus said “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The first time we did this was a year when one of our neighbors lost his job. We filled a box of non-perishable food items and some homemade cookies, and left it on their doorstep. The kids were so excited and could barely keep the secret. They love to be “heroes”, but if we don’t continue to act out our beliefs we become selfish.
This may all be new to you, and perhaps a little overwhelming to think of adding more things to a busy month. I started small by telling our children what I knew about Saint Nicholas and handing out chocolate coins. As I learned more, I built on that each year. There is no perfect way to carry out traditions. The important thing is that we do something.
Put something where your eye can see it,
So your eye can remind your heart.
The history of Saint Nicholas, and suggestions for celebrating Saint Nicholas Day, are taken from Celebrating the Christian Year, by Martha Zimmerman.
Some resources you may find helpful (click on the pictures for a place you can purchase these out-of-print books)!