Sunday, December 7, 2014

Santa Claus, Traditions and St. Nick



The holidays are all about traditions, right?  We MUST have traditions in order for our children to have a stable, happy childhood.  And part of those traditions include things like everyone sitting around in matching, ugly sweaters drinking hot chocolate while decorating a perfect tree. 

Right?  Right?

Bah Humbug!!  Holiday traditions are overrated.  Don't get me's important to do things together as a family. But, everything doesn't have to be A Tradition.  It doesn't have to be that we do the EXACT SAME THING every year so that it becomes A TRADITION.  

Trying to create traditions is stressful. It's a lot of pressure to keep up traditions.  To do the same things year after year.  

We don't have the same resources or time or energy every we can't always do the same things.  So, I'm just saying "no" to that pressure.  

Which leads me to the big Tradition we DON'T do.

What We Teach Our Kids about Santa Clause:  We teach our kids that Santa Claus is real only in the sense that St. Nicholas is real. In that St. Nicholas was a real person who existed many years ago on earth and still exists in heaven.

However, we don't teach our kids that he lives at the North Pole, that he has flying reindeer or elves and that he brings presents on Christmas Eve.  Because none of that is true.
Why We Don't Do Santa the American Way:  Years ago when Heidi was just a baby, I decided that we weren't going to do Santa Claus.  

At that time, I was more concerned with not lying. At that time, I (thankfully) had no clue what life had in store for us.

I did not have a good experience with Santa growing up. I basically never got what I REALLY wanted for Christmas. I was pretty much always disappointed on Christmas morning. I was left wondering why other kids' presents were wrapped or why they got more.  It never made sense to me that someone who knew if we were naughty or nice, wasn't able to get me a Cabbage Patch Kid until they became less expensive and went down in price. (Did I just date myself? Yes, I was a child of the Cabbage Patch Era). 

Making Christmas lists, but not getting what's on it was not a particularly positive experience.  Yet, if I had known who REALLY put the presents there, I would not have been nearly as disappointed. I would have appreciated them more knowing they came from my parents, rather than from Santa Claus. After all, there is no logical reason why someone who can make toys and can fly around the world in a sled would give more/bigger/better toys to certain families.

And now, as a mom, the thought of my kids making Christmas lists and me trying to find everything on it gives me hives.  I don't want my kids wishing and hoping for stuff because they're probably not going to get it. Every gift is a gift..something to be appreciated but not something to be expected. 

Better that they know that what they do get comes from us, that we give them presents because we love them, but that we can't give them everything they want.  Because it's much easier to understand why your parents can't give you a pony or a Cabbage Patch Kid or a Kindle than it is to understand why Santa can't. 

Plus the whole naughty/nice thing does not sit well with me.  I don't like tying presents to behavior. I'm not a theologian but I'm pretty sure that the Catholic Church does not hold to the teaching that in this life the nice are rewarded while the naughty just get coal. Might be nice if it worked that way....that if all you needed to do to get good things happen is to be good. Unfortunately it doesn't...the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. 

So, yes our kids do get presents on Christmas..from us. Not a lot of presents...just a few. I wish I could say that was because we are trying to mindfully be minimalist.  But really, it's just out of necessity because we can't afford much.
And yes, they still get these presents as "surprise" on Christmas morning.  So they still have that excitement of walking downstairs out of the bedroom to find presents in the living room.
A lot of people say they don't do Santa because they want to keep the focus on Christ.  That is not a main motivator for me.  I mean, of course we want to keep the focus on Christ, but I don't think that celebrating Santa/St. Nicholas necessarily takes the focus off Christ.  Although it can.

The Whole Lying/Deception Issue: I know, I know...people are all what's the big need to have their fantasies, make-believe is important.  And, it IS.  I totally agree with that.  Our kids read fairy tales and fantasy stories.  They love Narnia and Tolkien.  They've read/seen Harry Potter. 

They play make-believe/fantasy stories on their own...they make up plays, they play house.

But (there's always a but) there is a difference between reading a make-believe story or watching a make-believe movie/TV show and parents orchestrating reality to make the fantasy real. Kids are smart enough to figure out what is real and what isn't....except when adults muddy the waters for them. While we have read and enjoyed The Elves and the Shoemaker, I don't tell my kids that their new shoes were put there by elves.  My daughter used to enjoy dressing up as Cinderella but I never told her that her dress was made by her Fairy Godmother.

We may read stories about Santa Claus or unicorns or mermaids or fairies or leprechauns but I don't orchestrate things in real life and say that Santa Claus or a unicorn or a leprechaun did it. Or if I do, it's a wink, wink, nod, nod thing.   

However, in my experience, when most parents do Santa, it's not wink,wink,nod,nod.  It's that they REALLY want their kids to believe it was Santa.  

Plus, our family has been on the receiving end of gifts from REAL "Santas".  People who have been kind and generous to us and sent us gifts when times were tough.  And saying that those gifts were from Santa Claus takes away the chance for us to pray for and feel gratitude towards those real people. So yes, Santa is real in the sense that there are real people who play Santa.  And those individuals deserve our prayers and gratitude, and I'm not going to take that away from them.

A Note on St. Nicholas
Unlike when I was growing up, we do celebrate St. Nicholas Day.  The kids put out their shoes on the night of Dec. 5th and they find candy in them on December 6th.  Just candy...sometimes it's chocolate coins and sometimes it's Snickers bars...but it's always just candy.   But we don't tell the kids that it's actually St. Nicholas who brings the candy...they know it's us and  we do it as a way to celebrate the life of St. Nicholas and how he helped other people.   

I do think the Santa Claus thing is a very personal decision.  But for our family...I'm so very glad that years ago we decided not to do it.  Because I can't even imagine trying to keep up the Santa thing while being in law school or dealing with unemployment/underemployment or other financial burdens. Those things are stressful enough without the added pressure of having to be Santa and keep up Christmas traditions. 

What are you thoughts on the whole Santa/St. Nicholas thing?  How do you do it? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

And, whatever you do, I hope you have a Blessed and Holy Advent!


  1. We picked a name (secret) and we had to write a poem about the person relating to Christmas and had to DO something for that person. (No money involved). I had car washes, raked leaves, or snow shoveled, etc. It wa so much fun and the poems were hysterical. That tradition continued for 30 years until our son's wife decided it was not her thing.

    1. Sounds like a great tradition! I especially love the poem idea.

  2. We do Saint Nick and he brings our gifts. To be honest, I never knew it was such an issue until I became acquainted with the Catholic blogosphere. :). I had Santa as a kid and I never got what I wanted either, but I have no negative feelings about it. I don't even remember when I found our or how I felt. But because of this, I am not very into "things" and I don't want my kids too into things either. So, we do it the same way with our kids - they only get three presents and they are things we pick. We don't ask for their opinion or list and it works fine for us. This year we spent less than $150 on all three kids. I feel like that's pretty good! The only thing any of them asked for was a "tractor that I can really drive." Obviously they did not get that. :)

    1. I really think the biggest factor in what people decide to do about this is their experience with Santa as a child. It's funny how different people experience it so differently

  3. We don't do Santa Claus either. My husband was insistent on it, mainly b/c of the lying issue. I wasn't so sure, but now I'm glad we don't do it. Our kids gets presents from us and they know they're from us. It hasn't stopped them from being greedy though!

    My kids have such a funny concept of Santa b/c we've never made a big deal out of him. They think he's the inflatable guy the neighbors across the street put in their yard. We haven't taught them much about St. Nick, either. I think I"m the only Catholic I know who doesn't "do" St. Nicholas day. But like you said, there's time for that later.

    Thanks for the assurance we don't have to do ALL the traditions ALL the time!

    1. We only started doing St. Nicholas Day a few years ago (maybe 4..I can't really remember). It hasn't been that long. I really didn't start until I started reading blogs about it, and realized "hey, this is something SUPER EASY" we can do. The only reason I do it is because it's so easy to just buy candy and stick it in everyone's shoe.

  4. Yup. To all of it. (oh, except we DO have a few Christmas traditions that I will keep until I die!) I might as well have written this myself b/c it's almost exactly how we approach it here! I never had Santa as a kid because Christmas is about Jesus. That's that. My husband had never heard of such a thing until we were engaged and talking about it, but he was totally on board with not doing Santa because he was a family mental health counselor and couldn't stand how he saw parents manipulate their children with the threat /or/ promise of Santa Claus. We want our kids to know that the gifts they receive are from real people who deserve our gratitude, and that they were given to honor and celebrate God's beautiful gifts of the Christ child and our Savior! We don't even let our kids make wish lists. The idea of asking for something specific and maybe not appreciating all the other stuff they get b/c all Christmas day they're looking for that one thing... the whole idea makes me cringe. They know they'll get gifts, but we really try to emphasize what a blessing it is to receive anything at all and to be happy and grateful for what they do get. Like you, our kids get chocolate on St. Nicholas day (or the day after if we forget, hehe!) but they know it's from us to honor and remember a great and generous saint who did not in fact come down our chimney ;) Anyway... some people think we are grinchy but for my husband and I, every year when Advent/Christmastime rolls around and we're focused on making gifts for others, celebrating the saints and Jesus, and not confusing things by trying to squeeze Santa into all of it, it feels like one of the best parenting decisions we've made. (that last sentence read awkwardly, but you know what I mean... ;)) Thanks for sharing your family's take on this, Amelia! We're kindred spirits in this regard :) Happy and blessed Advent!

  5. I definitely agree that when traditions become something we "have" to do every year, they can get really annoying. Although I have found my older kids have started to remember and expect certain things each holiday--but now at least they can help out with making them happen.

    We do St. Nick on the 6th. That's when we hang the stockings. We give them candy and a small gift if we can swing it. My youngest children believe St. Nick comes down from heaven that day (I draw the line at the North Pole bit) and brings the gifts, despite my oldest child trying to convince them that that couldn't possibly happen. He's made such a big deal of it that they are now firmly entrenched in their belief, just to be contrary. They can make what they will of all that once they all grow up. ;-)

  6. The whole idea that EVERYTHING is a tradition is something that I've been thinking about a lot lately. When I was growing up, we had A LOT of traditions -- and when old traditions had to change, we made NEW replacement traditions. All this emphasis on "tradition" did for me is give me a ton of anxiety about "going against tradition."

    Seriously, I didn't spend New Year's Eve with my friends until I was 23 years old because I would have a panic attack thinking about the trouble I'd cause if I went against the "traditional" NYE dinner with my parents. This year, we're trying to make a few new traditions for our new family, but we're keeping them small and manageable -- like buying a new ornament for our tree each year.

    ...Sorry for the novel. I guess I didn't know I was so passionate about this.

  7. As someone who grew up with an Irish mother I am not yet ready to give up on the "wee folk" (leprechauns). I love "magic" and "fairies" and all that sort of thing. I do NOT want to know how the magician does his tricks.

    I think I still believe in "Santa Claus" even tho' I am a grandmother. I know . . . but that's just me.

  8. Great post Amelia! I love your take on Traditions. We try to have some of the same routines for the holidays, but we never recreate the same things every year. We love to have appetizers on Christmas Eve for dinner, but we change them up every year and love planning the new menu together. Thanks for sharing!


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