That is the question many Christians ask themselves when they begin the task of raising children. Whether ’tis nobler to leave the jolly guy out of it altogether for fear of his supplanting Christ? Or to enjoy the poetry and romance of a mysterious benefactor spreading goodwill toward men?
If your conscience dictates that you avoid the Santa figure completely, do not violate your conscience. I am not here to convince you to do so. But student of history and literature that I am, I have not found this to be an all or nothing issue. I have found a sweet and proper place for him in the festivities.
My mother painted a lovely ceramic statue of Santa Claus when we were children. It depicted him, hat off and kneeling in prayer and worship, before the Christ child in the manger. It sat every Christmas on our dining room table until she passed away. I wish I still had it. It was a visual reminder, for a family that went all out for Christmas, of the appropriate place for Santa Claus.
Indeed, that is exactly where St. Nicholas would like to be, I am quite sure. If I told my children there was no Santa Claus, I would not be telling them the truth. The man we call Santa Claus in English was a wonderful saint. St. Nicholas can trace his pedigree straight through church history to the present. What we know about him has become shrouded in legend through the centuries, but we do know he was a bishop in Asia minor in the 300’s. He was known for generous acts of charity and possibly miraculous works and right there is where the fantastic legends spring from. So I tell my children that it is difficult, with so many storytellers over so many centuries, to know what happened and what was made up. With such terrific legends, no wonder it is rumored that he is still alive, can fly, and gives gifts to every child once a year. But while the legends get downright silly, what people have done to imitate his good example is beautiful. Needs are met and gifts given anonymously, just the way St. Nicholas did, every Christmas. He was celebrated with gusto until the Reformation, when honoring saints was frowned upon. But those reformed Dutch carried on the tradition of Sinterkklaus (in their language) and carried the filling of shoes in his honor on to America in the 1700’s, where he was known as Santa Claus. Poetry and advertising has changed our idea of what he looked like and how to honor this saint’s example, but we do not have to sift far to find the truth.
I do not lie to my children. If they ask if he is real, I have told them the story over and over and that others remember him by dressing up. As to whether he fills their stocking, they will have to figure that out themselves! By the time they near the teen years, and some of the mystery and excitement is replaced by practical knowledge, it is their turn to carry on the tradition and buy their own gifts, to be a St. Nicholas for Angel Tree or another organization that collects gifts. We have taken $100 and surprise gifted it in coffee shops and stores anonymously for a truly “secret Santa”. Santa Claus is an example to us of giving from a grateful heart. The ultimate example is Jesus and it was in His name the bishop was giving. A man like that, and his real story, is sorely needed i this age of consumerism. Let us put him in his proper place, but let us not forget his noble example.
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