Thursday, December 3, 2009

Saint Nicholas

Santa Claus causes trouble for many Christians. Some families have decided that the jolly man with his reindeer is a fun addition to family traditions. Others don't like the idea of Santa but feel there is no way to avoid the books, music, and movies. Others are upset that Santa distracts from the celebration of the true gift giver. Still others believe he is the devil's attempt to rid Christmas of Christ--you can rearrange the letters of his name to spell "Satan" after all!!

How do we handle Santa Claus in our home?

We reclaim him for the Church.

Santa Claus, the Americanized name for Saint Nicholas from the Dutch Sinter Klaas,was the Bishop of Myra during the fourth century and his Feast Day is December 6th. He is remembered for his great faith and compassion. Tradition tells us he was a wealthy man who practiced true care for the poor, once sneaking into a home (some say by way of the chimney) to leave money for girls who were going to be given over to prostitution. Thus European Protestants also began giving gifts on Saint Nicholas feast day. But unlike the modern Santa Claus who brings toys, Saint Nicholas brought the good news of the gospel:

"Aside from the obvious disparities between Saint Nicholas and the secular Santa Claus, perhaps the most poignant difference between them can be seen in the nature of the gifts they give. While Santa has his bundle of toys, the gift that Saint Nicholas gives is nothing short of freedom from poverty and desperation. The life of Saint Nicholas is an example of faith made flesh in actions of true charity" (Neuhaus, God With Us p. 40).
Rather than ignoring the secularization of Saint Nicholas and leaving a gaping hole, we have the opportunity to remember a man devoted to God.

Last year we read of Saint Nicholas from this wonderful resource. This year I was able to request books from the library to read too. We also colored pictures and played the matching game to review his life. When the children woke up in the morning, they found bags of chocolate money coins and a tangerine in their shoes to remind them of Saint Nicholas good works. This year our church is having a family pizza and movie night to show the new Veggie Tales Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving film.

My hope for expanding our tradition this year is to go beyond remembering to actually imitating Saint Nicholas. So we are discussing as a family how we may, even if small, may practice a " faith made flesh in actions of true charity."

If you are interested in learning more about Saint Nicholas, I highly recommend the Saint Nicholas Center.

It has articles entitled Who is St. Nicholas?, A Real Person?, A Real Saint? It has digital stories, art for young and old.

The site also has the trailer for the movie on his life:

Though my daughter when she was just 3 was quite offended by the last line of the trailer, "You will believe in him." "Mommy, I only believe in God," she charged. It made for a good discussion, as discussions with three year olds often are.

Since Saint Nicholas feast day falls on a Sunday this year, so many will forgo the observation altogether as the celebration of Christ's Resurrection always triumphs over a small feast. In that light, we will contain all of our festivities for Friday night and Saturday morning. I love that the feast falls so early in Advent so we can discuss St. Nicholas life and then keep Christmas for Christ's birth.

The books we're using are all from our library:

The Real St. Nicholas: Tales of Generosity and Hope from Around the World, Edited and Translated by Louise Carus. This is a gem, filled with beautiful art as early as the tenth century, the middle ages, and today. It contains history, wonderful folk tales, and customs.

Saint Nicholas by Ann Tompert. The text is shorter in this book, making it ideal for younger children. The illustrations are the mosaic art of Michael Garland. It has one frightening image of a black cloud full of skeletons to represent the plague that killed Nicholas' parents which I think I'll cover for my little ones.

The Real Santa Claus by Marianna Mayer is another beautifully illustrated children's books filled with illustrations mainly from the middle ages. It is much more detailed than the Tompert, perhaps than more suitable for older children.

For more ideas, visit Kerry's blog. Her breakfast "feast" sounds delightful and she has more book recommendations.

How do you deal with Santa Claus? Any other ideas?


MomCO3 said...

Thanks for these resources and your (as always) thoughtful post. Here's a link to a post on our St Nicholas traditions.

Amy said...

Annie, I love how you help the kids focus on modeling St. Nicholas rather than just getting thigns for themselves. I hope we'll be able to use this weekend to make our homemade gifts and baked goods for our neighbors, but I like your ideas too, hubby and I will have to talk tonight! Thanks for sharing.

Juanita said...

Wonderful post, Amy. I will be on the look-out for some of those books. I did a St. Nicholas post, too.

marshins said...

Hi Amy - I'm Michael Tilley's wife and he recently pointed me to your blog. I really enjoyed this post on Saint Nicholas. Just this year we started celebrating Saint Nicholas Day. I appreciate all the resources and loved the Neuhaus quote.


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