Yesterday I started a short series examining the arguments I frequently hear when I tell someone that we don’t do Santa, beginning with the biggest one, “Because it’s FUN.” Today I’m continuing with the second biggest reason I’m given:
Reason #2: Santa Claus is based on Saint Nicholas.
Ever. So. Loosely.
I’ve written about how Saint Nicholas became Santa Claus before. The short story is that legend of the Turkish priest spread throughout Europe, which was brought to America by the Vikings, and the Dutch and Spanish settlers. Since then, the printing press and the television have given us “Santa Claus” as we know him today, giving him an elfish appearance, reindeer and elf helpers. The only thing that Santa still has in common with Saint Nicholas is giving gifts to kids but even then, there’s a difference. I can’t speak for Saint Nicholas, obviously, but what he stood for and what Santa stands for are so vastly different, I don’t think Saint Nicholas would like to be compared to him at all.
Bear with me a second. Hear me out.
Santa preaches bribery and then unmerited reward. He says “be good or you’ll get a lump of coal.” But then he brings presents anyway. Kids know this. Kids know they’re going to get a present from Santa whether they’re good or not. In the moment, the empty threat may encourage them to obey but deep down inside they KNOW they’re getting a present. And on Christmas Day they KNOW they weren’t always good, but they got a gift anyway.
Santa often brings extravagant or frivolous toys. Extra things, things we don’t need, things that are over the top or out of our budget but we scrape for it anyway. Santa’s presence, his extravagant gift giving, the practice of writing letters and creating abundant wishlists, these things breed and encourage an attitude of “getting” – greed, gluttony and coveting. It’s hard for kids, and even adults, to separate these things from Christmas when Santa is involved.
By contrast, Saint Nicholas didn’t give empty threats or bribery. Saint Nicholas gave to THOSE IN NEED. He saw needs, he met them. And why? Because Jesus loved the people, so Saint Nicholas loved the people. Saint Nicholas also gave THINGS THEY NEEDED. Need shoes? Here you go. A dowry? Here’s some money for that. Need some food? No problem. And Saint Nicholas gave and gave and gave. He was born monetarily wealthy, and he died monetarily poor, but rich in love. Because Saint Nicholas loved God so much, he gave all he had.
I’m not against getting gifts, or toys, or even some nice things. But I find an attitude of Giving and Thanksgiving have trouble thriving in Santa’s presence. Santa doesn’t preach “give to others.” He bellows, “what do YOU want for Christmas, little boy?” And most definitely we can give and meet needs and serve others without Santa’s help.
One of the things that we’ve changed around here since cutting out Santa is changing what goes in the Christmas stocking – a tradition we chose to keep because those actually DO tie back into the story of Saint Nicholas. Following in Saint Nicholas’ tradition, the stocking is used to give fun but mostly necessary items. A new compact mirror, a hairbrush set, fun ponytail holders, gum, a new belt, character socks, chap stick, a watch, and so on. There’s probably going to be a hot wheel car or a my little pony type small thing in there, too. But most of it will be useful, needed and fun. The kids still enjoy seeing what’s inside their stockings (even though the girls joke they get a new hairbrush in their stocking every Christmas.) (Shh… not this year, they’re not!) =p
Another tradition I’ve been pondering is the whole tradition of making a wishlist. In an effort to keep the kids from going overboard, I’ve always encouraged them to keep their lists short and not too expensive. As a result they usually receive almost everything on it, and exactly what they wanted. Everybody’s happy, but I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be better if they DIDN’T get everything they asked for, if there were some things they got they didn’t ask for that they liked, if there was more of an element of surprise and less of a certainty that they were going to get what they wanted. I dunno… I’m just thinking out loud and haven’t really come up with any answers on that one yet. I’d be interested to know what you think.
For a long time, the “fact” that Santa Claus was based on Saint Nicholas made me indecisive about cutting Santa out of our tradition. But studying the history and learning more about the truth of how Saint Nicholas became Santa, seeing the notable differences between the two, freed me up to let Santa go without any guilt or ill feelings. I’m not ditching Saint Nicholas, I’m letting go of a tradition that no longer resembles Saint Nicholas at all. It’s the huge crevasse of difference between what Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas stand for that leads me to say that for me, the “Santa is based on Saint Nicholas” argument bears no weight with me at all.
I understand that most people really do think Santa Claus is okay because he’s based on Saint Nicholas, and that they don’t know enough about Saint Nicholas to see the differences. Parents genuinely want to do right by their kids and they want them to have the best Christmas experience they can. This is why I hear this argument so much. I fully acknowledge their right to do Santa if they want to. But for us, it’s not a good enough reason to “do it anyway” and so I choose to abstain. I’ll write about the next reason in another post, but for now I want to leave you with some good reading to enjoy. God Bless!
- Santa-Jesus (while most people talk about how Santa is not like Jesus, my friend Kristi tackles how JESUS is not like SANTA.)
- Why Jesus is infinitely better than Santa Claus.
- Santa Vs. Jesus (I love her list of things she wants her kids to know about Christmas.)
- Kids, Jesus, and Santa: Do you tell the truth? (I fully agree with his perspective on honesty, I want my kids to know that we’ll always tell the truth!)