“Santa’s coming here?”
Oh, oh. It was the “big question,” asked a few years ago by my then four-year-old. I had been expecting it. At nursery school, they were practicing for their Christmas concert. All of the songs and poems were about the jolly elf in the red suit.
When I was a kid, Santa was part of our Christmas celebrations, although I don’t remember ever actually, truly believing that he was real. It was a fun tradition, like the Easter Bunny or carving Halloween pumpkins.
We’d write our letters to “Santa Claus, North Pole, HOH OHO” and stick them in the mail. We’d leave out milk and cookies, which were gone Christmas morning (gasp!). There would be presents from him under the tree. Our 1965 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer record (which included the second story about Rudolph saving a circus!) was worn from use.
Santa was part of the “magic” of Christmas. We enjoyed ourselves, but our mom and dad also made sure the focus was on the real story of God’s greatest gift lying in the manger.
Who was Santa, anyhow?
Fast forward a few years; now my husband and I had our turn. So…was Santa coming to our house? It turned out the question led to one of those much-coveted “teaching moments.”
I had a vague inkling that there was a real person in Santa’s background story (probably from songs like “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas”!). I did a bit of research and discovered an inspiring story.
St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra in the Roman province of Lycia, during the fourth century. There isn’t much information about his life, although he was known to have been an advocate for the unjustly condemned.
According to tradition, Nicholas’ parents died when he was young, leaving him a large sum of money. With his inheritance, Nicholas practiced charity, helping those in need.
In parts of Europe, gifts are given to children on St. Nicholas’ feast day in early December. When immigrants from Europe came to North America, the tradition came too, eventually morphing with other traditions and stories and turning into the Santa Claus we know today.
The most important thing
Let’s take a closer look:
“The important thing is that [Nicholas] was a holy man. That is why he is called Saint Nicholas, for saint means holy. Now holiness takes many forms. From the stories that Christians told over the centuries, the strikingly holy thing about Nicholas is that he had learned from Jesus what we might call the law of the gift. The law of the gift is very simple, although most of us have had a hard time learning it and an even harder time living it. The law of the gift is this: the more you give, the more you receive.” (God With Us, Paraclete Press, 2007)
I like to think St. Nicholas was a God-fearer, a believer in Immanuel, God with us. I like to believe he did what he did because his faith demanded nothing less.
It just so happened that when my daughter asked her question, we were lighting the Advent candle for “Love.” The discussion turned to giving gifts, how fun they were to receive, but also to give! We give gifts because we want to show love and care. God gave us the gift of Jesus because He loves and cares for us!
How wonderful to also point to the story of the real Saint Nicholas as another example of sacrificial love at Christmas.
We’ve continued to do some fun Santa traditions at our house. But since that day back when my daughter asked her big question, we’ve made sure to also talk about the man behind the myth. Because Saint Nicholas practiced what he preached, lives were changed. His story points to the bigger Story behind it all. That’s the story we share at Christmas…and all year!
To read with your family: The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving by Dandi Daley Mackall.