We are a Santa Claus family. In the same way that my husband and I did when we were growing up, our own children wake up on Christmas morning to find goodies in their stockings and gifts under the tree that weren't there the night before. Over the years I have struggled a little with whether it was wise to carry on the Santa Claus tradition. Some people say that to do so is in effect lying to your children and that it sets them up to doubt other things you tell them. It is also argued that Santa Claus takes attention away from the true reason for Christmas, the birth of Christ. I have pondered these arguments and have worried that maybe they are true. At the same time, as I look at how we rear our children, I see a house in which Jesus is spoken of and taught and looked to as the one true Lord every single day of the year, whereas Santa Claus is an annual blip on the horizon. We don't pray to Santa, we don't talk about him day in and day out, we don't worship him in church, and we don't look to him as the source of all that is true and right and good. Furthermore, because of my inability to look my children in the eye and lie to them about things like flying reindeer and the breaching of the space-time continuum, I have never done so. And yet gifts have appeared and we have passively allowed that they came from Santa Claus. Which, really, they did, right? From Santa Mom and Santa Dad? Sigh. It's a cop-out, I know.
Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, upon whom Santa Claus is based, and who was a real person in the early days of the Church. You can read more about him here. I have friends who observe the Feast of St. Nicholas apart from Christmas and who even do the gift-giving today rather than on Christmas. I like that. If I had it to do all over again, maybe I would have proposed to my husband that we start a new family tradition and downplay Santa Claus while making more of St. Nicholas. But when I had my first baby almost 20 years ago I was not even aware of this day in the church calendar and the ways that one might observe it. Even if I had been, I honestly don't know that we would have done anything different. Like most people, I strongly identify with the traditions I learned as a child and find it hard to give them up.
Evan, my youngest, has embraced the Santa Claus myth with greater passion than either of my two older children. In spite of the fact that we have previously told him that one person can't do all that Santa supposedly does and that there are really many Santa's and Santa helpers, he at 8 years of age is still holding fast to the Santa story. Earlier this year when he told me what he wanted for his birthday he started to mention one item but then backed off from it, saying that no, he would put that on his Christmas list because while we couldn't afford it Santa certainly could. I decided right then and there that we needed to make sure and get him precisely THAT gift for his birthday because we wanted the best gift coming from us, not Santa!
Today in observance of St. Nicholas Day we read together the true story of St. Nicholas and I looked Evan in the eye and told him that Santa Claus is based on the real person of St. Nicholas, who died many years ago but who because of what he did and stood for has inspired others to carry on his example of giving, especially at Christmastime. Evan looked right back at me and without hesitation said, "But there's one thing I still don't understand, Mom. How do the reindeer fly?"
Sigh. There's always next year, right?