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Believing in Santa

December 8, AD 2011 21 Comments

About this time of year, moms in all corners of the blogosphere pull out their boxing gloves and prepare to battle to the death to defend or decry Santa Claus. Here in the Catholic corner of the blogosphere, the “to Santa or not to Santa” battle takes on a different twist: Santa vs. St. Nicholas.

Last year was my first time experiencing this not-so-jolly holiday blogging past-time. I merely accused the Santa detractors of being communists, unaware that this mild accusation would bring the heat of holiday anxiety down on my head. The whole conversation wrapped up with a post by the Political Housewyf, who is one of my blogging buddies, which I think nicely captures the major arguments against Santa from Catholic moms. Bonnie, another blogging buddy of mine, wrote a post here at Ignitum Today last week which expresses basically the same sentiments.

Over the past few days, I’ve read two other articles on the pro-Santa side which have given me much to consider. I was raised by parents who followed the “we don’t lie to our kids” path, so Santa was never a big part of the holidays for us. I, however, have always loved the myth of Santa. I love everything that surrounds it. I don’t see Santa as just another part of the crass commercialization that surrounds the Christmas holidays in this country; sure, he can be twisted to be a part of it, but I believe that the story and legend of Santa is the one aspect of Christmas that our culture has actually not polluted. I also don’t think that conflating Santa with St. Nicholas does anyone any favors.

Let me explain how we celebrate the holidays. First, there is St. Nicholas’ Day. One of my eldest daughter’s middle names is Nicole, so this is a doubly special day for our family. One of the coolest parts of being a convert and being married to the child of adult converts is that we have no liturgically-related traditions in place. Every year, we get to create our own traditions around the liturgical celebrations. Sometimes we do a good job with them; sometimes I forget about them entirely; and sometimes we just throw out a hasty, “oh yeah, happy name-day, Charlotte” when a facebook friend happens to remind us that it’s the feast day of St. Charles Borromeo. But St. Nicholas’ Day is a different matter.

On the night before St. Nicholas’ Day, we read the children the story of St. Nicholas. We remind them to leave out their shoes and include a special petition for his prayers in our evening prayer-time. That evening, my husband writes the children a letter from St. Nicholas in which he addresses specific areas of improvement in their behavior, areas in which they still need to grow in virtue, and asks them to share their chocolate coins with others, since being able to share is in itself a great gift of God. We read the letter at breakfast, then we usually make some sort of St. Nicholas Bread (this is the one we made this year) and then we take the coins somewhere to share them with people. Last year it was the grocery store; this year it was a basketball game. It’s so lovely to see how excited the girls get about sharing their coins. This year, Sienna was so eager to share that she gave all of hers away before eating even one herself.

When I choose the stories to read on the night before St. Nicholas’ Day, I always skip the ones that explain how St. Nicholas is the inspiration for Santa Claus. That may be true, but the two have become so distinct that I see them as two different entities entirely. We do the Santa thing as well, heartily. Our kids write letters to Santa. We take them to get their pictures made. We always bake cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, and leave them on the fireplace with a big glass of milk. The kids each get one or two special presents from Santa.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, our nightly reading swings between stories of the nativity and stories of Santa. We read Who’s Coming to Our House? and The Night Before Christmas. We read The Clown of God and The Polar Express. We talk about the Annunciation, Mary and Joseph’s journey, Santa’s reindeer, the birth of Christ, and the North Pole. And although I’ve been accused of it, I’ve never once felt that I am lying to my children.

For many years, I considered Santa part and parcel of the world of fairy-tales and magic. I defended the need for fairy-tales on my blog. I threw Chesterton quotes at my detractors with triumph. This year, though, my thinking on Santa has shifted a little.

Santa is a particular creation of the American culture. Other cultures and countries have different traditions, and some have even adopted ours, but Santa, as he is known today, in his red suit, with the big belly, white beard, sweet wife and multiple reindeer is a particularly American construct. Over the years, the true meaning of Christmas has indeed slipped away. Our country is no longer a Christian country. We are pragmatic and scientific and factual and ever so dull. We no longer believe in God, fairies, or anything that we can’t see, touch and prove. Christmas has become a time of hideous materialism, wild over-indulgence, and gross consumerism.

But Santa, to me, says something about the American people. His persistent presence in our holiday traditions and the love that we as a people have for him says that Americans have not lost the capacity to believe in something more. Movies like Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Claus, and The Polar Express capture what Santa really is to us. He is an intangible, fanciful expression of our buried and almost forgotten belief in the goodness of the human person. He is an expression of our longing for something beyond what we have in front of us. He is an expression of our deepest desire, the desire to believe.

The legend of Santa Claus, as Americans know it, gives me hope for the future. It gives me hope that we, as a country, can once more begin to see that there is more to life than presents and libations. It gives me hope that one day we will indeed recover our belief in Someone greater than ourselves, Someone who makes life, and Christmas, truly meaningful.

Santa Claus is the St. Nicholas for those who have lost their faith, and those who never had it. Instead of gold coins tossed into the window of maidens with no dowry, our Santa drops a tantalizing glimpse down our chimneys of the hope and joy that comes from believing in something, and Someone, greater than ourselves. That’s reason enough for me to not discount the tradition of Santa. It’s a unique thing, one of the only unique myths that America has created, and I see no problem with embracing it as fully as we embrace the legend of St. Nicholas. It doesn’t detract from the meaning of Christmas, but adds to it; it gives a new layer of depth and magic to the season in which we celebrate the wondrous birth of the Christ Child, the hope He brings us, the generosity and kindness of the Bishop of Myra, and yes, even the jolly old elf who gives children who believe the desires of their youthful hearts.


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Calah Alexander was born and raised Evangelical Christian and converted to Catholicism in August of 2007. She is a married mother of three whose husband is finishing his doctorate in English Literature at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, while she is homeschooling, writing, changing diapers and remembering to turn the oven off. Her website is Barefoot and Pregnant.[/author_info] [/author]

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