I have a confession to make. I never believed in Santa.
I loved Christmas and we had stockings (in fact I insisted on one till I was married when my husband took over the job!) but the Santa myth, while never formally debunked, was also never promoted in our family. From pretty early on, the game was to try and stay awake so as to figure out which parent had snuck in to play Father Christmas that year, leaving the brilliantly lumpy stockings my Mum habitually concocted at the end of our beds. They were good. We never caught them!
The reason we didn’t believe in Santa was because we were brought up on the legend of St Nicholas. My parents didn’t want us to grow up and discover that Santa wasn’t real and then to wonder if Jesus was just a story-book character too.
There are many who argue that kids cope just fine with the growing realisation that some things like magic and fairies and superheroes just don’t exist in the real world and I see their point. On the other hand, we don’t play along and enact any of these other things as adults except as a temporary thing if we’re joining in a let’s pretend game. With Santa, we mostly do actually cover up the truth and I have slightly mixed feelings about that. With things as precious as my kids’ faith, I’m inclined to caution.
If it concerns you too (and I’m not saying it necessarily should) or you just want to add a fun bit of background to the Santa story, then read on! Because, St Nicholas, as we shall see, was quite a fun guy and my daughter, who was three over last Christmas, loved learning about him. I’ve also got some great St Nick resources, approaching the Santa/St Nicholas story in various ways.
I’m sure that you know the Santa Claus character is based on a real person, St Nicholas. St Nick, or plain old Nicholas as he was known then, was a 4th Century bishop in ancient Myra, then part of Greece but now in modern-day Turkey. The most famous legend about St Nicholas (it turns out there are a few) describes how he wanted to help a poor family with three daughters, none of whom could afford a dowry to get married. In the days before social benefits, this would have left them destitute with only one profession open to them, one you’re probably not going to discuss with a pre-schooler!
Whether through personal discretion or to save the girls’ father embarrassment, Nicholas is said to have thrown purses of gold through the window of the house to pay for the girls’ dowries, either on three consecutive nights or the night before each girl came of age, depending on which version you hear.
On the third night, it is said, the father of the girls wanted to catch and thank the mystery benefactor so, in some versions of the legend, St Nick throws the purse down the chimney instead of through the window, where it lands in the stockings of the youngest daughter, conveniently hung out to dry by the fire. (You can find out more here.)
This story explained to my young mind quite adequately why we had a tradition of putting our stockings out and why they always included a pack of golden (chocolate) coins. I’m still not sure why British children put their stockings at the end of the bed or quite how Santa, as he later became known, attached himself to Christmas, rather than the 6th December which is his actual Saint’s day. In the rest of Europe, children will be putting their shoes or stockings out this Friday in the hopes of them being filled with chocolate, rather than on Christmas Eve. This picture shows him in more obviously bishop-py attire.
Meanwhile, in our house, we’ll be watching the DVD: St Nicholas – a Tale of Joyful Giving by the awesome Veggie Tales crew. What we love about this DVD is that, not only does it explain the link between St Nicholas and Santa, it also emphasises the joy of giving through the story line. The writing is superb with lots of fun wordplays that will be appreciated by any adults watching but plenty of fun action for the younger crowd too. (This link is for reference only and is not an affiliate link).
Another very interesting activity I saw on another blog was a comparison one Mum made between Santa and Jesus for her children here. She used Santa as an example of ways that many of the symbols we use around Christmas time point us back to Jesus and showed the similarities between Jesus and Santa. It’s really quite an eye-opener! I may not agree with her theology (the Mum is Mormon) but she’s created a great activity.
Finally, there are some lovely books on St Nicholas. My favourite is: St Nicholas; The real story of the Christmas Legend. It’s a slightly fictionalised version but based on the facts known about St Nicholas. Like the DVD, it also emphasises Christian love being expressed through generosity. (Again, this isn’t an affiliate link.)
So, I’m intrigued: Do you think there is a risk in over-doing the Santa thing? How do you handle it in your family? And do your kids believe in Santa? Please do comment!