I still consider myself to be a newb in all things concerning family life and motherhood. My oldest will be 5 in the Spring. I am at the turning point where I want to be grounded in what we choose for family traditions. Traditions are an important part of family life not only do they add treasured memories and togetherness, but they contribute to higher academics, emotional stability and well being, success, happiness and are even linked with parental competence and marital satisfaction. (Source1)
I loved many of the traditions I grew up with that I get to share with my children and I’m excited for the new(to us) traditions that we have found to add into our family. Some of these are as simple as just making a point to have dinner together each night. Not to be afraid to say no and live life a little slower and hygge it up if you will.
As we are days away from entering into one of my favorite times of year, though, I want to talk about the traditions of advent, the season that prepares us for the most magical Christmas season. Advent means coming. The coming of our infant Lord. The last few years I’ve been reading the book, The Year and Our Children. It is a book written by a faith filled Catholic mother of 6 and she goes through the liturgical year spewing beautiful, rich traditions to pass down the faith in such a memorable and meaningful way.
As she, Mary Reed Newland, has said it so perfectly and in a way that I can only presume was inspired by the Holy Ghost, I simply wanted to share her thoughts on St. Nicholas vs. Santa Claus. This can be a touchy subject. And to each their own. But This is what we have decided to do with our children only because I fully believe it adds to the true meaning and beauty of Christmas while still leaving all the fun and a little mystery.
St. Nicholas, the Christmas Saint
On December 6 comes the feast of the Christmas saint, St. Nicholas, though most of our celebration of this feast comes on his vigil, December 5. We find a puppet show a delightful way to tell his story, explain his relation to the Christ Child, and introduce the hanging of stockings on his feast day.
St. Nicholas was really a Turk born in Asia Minor. For a long time he was Bishop of Myra (near the Southern coast of Turkey to the right of the Island of Rhodes- in case you look for it on a map). An orphan, he grew in love of God, became a priest and made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to venerate the places of Our Lord’s life. On the voyage a terrible storm threatened to sink the ship, but by his prayers all were saved. For this reason he is venerated as patron of boatmen, fishermen, dock workmen, and sailors.
Returning to his native land he was made a bishop; his generosity and love for the poor and for children, as well as his many miracles, endeared him to Christian people all over the world. He is also venerated as the patron of scholars, coopers and brewers, travelers and pilgrims, those who have unjustly lost a lawsuit, as patron and annual benefactor of school children (especially boys), and is invoked against robbers and ( in Holland) for protection of seafaring men.
Many legends surround St. Nicholas. The story we like best is the well-known tale of the three marriageable daughters who were nevertheless un marriageable for want of dowries. Hearing of their plight, the saint went silently by their house one night and tossed a bag of gold through the window for the oldest, who not long after found a husband for herself with no trouble at all. Then he crept by a second time and tossed a bag of gold through the window for the second daughter, who likewise was suddenly at no loss for suitors. As he was about to toss the gold through the window for the third daughter, the father of the girls caught sight of him. Throwing himself at his feet, he thanked him, confessed his sins, begged his blessing. Plainly it is from this story that the tradition has grown wherein St. Nicholas is said to leave gifts, candies, sweets on window sills, in shoes, and even in the stockings of good little children.
It is the Dutch diminutive Sinter Klaas (Sant Nikolaas) which became , by way of the New Amsterdam Dutch, the familiar American Santa Clause. It is among the Dutch also that we find the appearance of Black Peter, his page, who follows him distributing switches, coal and straw-whatever- to the naughty children as St. Nicholas gives treats to the good.
“Telling the truth about Santa Claus” need not rob children of their Christmas magic. It adds to it with another feast to celebrate, another saint to know and love, another emphasis gently persuading them t meditate on the coming of the Divine Child. And if we really fear to take away that part of it that is surprise, that marvelous moment Christmas morning when the presents are at last mysteriously there, be assured the little ones continue to pretend. Our littlest ones, knowing the truth, continue to pretend that it is all assembled in the most mysterious and magical fashion.
“But-then- who gives us the presents?” children will ask.
“Who loves you most in all the world gives you the presents.”
“Who is that?”
They screw up their faces, think hard. Then suddenly all brighten: “You- and Daddy, and Grandma and Granny!”
It is like the circle that never ends. God loves mothers and fathers gives them children they will love, and they teach the children about God, and the children love God, and since God wants them all with Him in Heaven, He sends His Son who loves them so much that He gives up His life for them, and that is so much love that it pays for their sins and buys back Heaven for them. . . At Christmas everyone is so happy about all this that we all give each other presents. Shouldn’t that be the reason we give an receive presents?
It would be a little embarrassing to be asked, “Don’t you think the Christ Child is an adequate substitute for Santa Claus?” and feel you must answer No. He really is and He must become the all of Christmas for families who are going to try and live lives of deep faith. It is not really worth it to toss in this “little white lie” when we are trying so hard to teach children impeccable truthfulness. Probably not all children who discover there is no Santa , when they have been told by their parents that there is, will consider their parents dyed-in-the-wool liars, but there is the danger that they will discount some of every other truth they are taught. This is an age when accuracy and unadorned truthfulness are not particularly in vogue. Yet a concern to speak the utter truth in everything will teach a child better than anything else how to be utterly truthful himself, how to be honest with his own conscience- which is the same thing as being honest with God. Santa Claus is not a serious lie, but St. Nicholas in his rightful place, gazing with us at the Christ Child, is a much lovelier truth.
One thing, however, it is not cricket to do: go about the neighborhood telling all the children who do believe in Sainta Claus that “there is none.” This kind of revelation is guaranteed to leave nothing but heartache behind. Without proper explanation or background it is really cheating a child of something he dearly loves. Most children can learn to keep their own counsel about this; where there is disparity on the subject in the neighborhood, with love and tact the mothers can explain and help prevent unpleasant exchanges.
The Puppet Show the Vigil and the Feast
(Any one who hangs out with me knows I love to talk in any accent that currently fits the bill, so this puppet show is a new family tradition I relish, jah!)
Our puppets are made from socks- a white one for St. Nicholas and a black one for Black Peter.
In her book she goes over the short details on how they make their sock puppets. Suffice it to say I drew on their faces and glued some cottony beard(white for St. Nicholas, black for Black Peter, jah) and made make shift hats. She also made a little stage with cardboard. I just went behind the couch. I’m sure as my children grow I’ll get more impressive with my efforts, right now they’re too easy to please and I am not above taking advantage of that!
Everyone assembles after dinner on December 5, the vigil of the feast, and the puppet show begins. First St. Nicholas appears, bowing with dignity and murmuring: “Thank you, thank you,” to the shouts and clapping. He has a Dutch accent (just for merriment) , and if your accent isn’t all it might be, frequent interpolations of “jah, jah” convince all present that it is superb.
“Good evening, little children,” he says. “I am St. Nicholas. Jah- a real saint I am, in Heaven now, and my feast is celebrated tomorrow. You are going to celebrate my feast? Jah? Good!”
“I am not, you know, the real reason for Christmas. Even though I am sometimes called Santa Claus, I am not the reason for Christmas. Oh no. Baby Jesus is the reason for Christmas. It is His birthday, Christmas, the day His Father in Heaven gave Him to all of us. “
” I am waiting in Heaven, now, like you on earth, for His birthday on Christmas Day. And do you want to know something? That is why I gave gifts to little children when I was on earth! Because I was so grateful to God the Father for giving Jesus to me. That is why we give each other presents on Christmas Day, because we are full of joy and gladness that Jesus came down to be one of us and to die to pay for our sins.”
“Now, here is something you may do for my feast, and it pleases me so very much. You hang your stockings tonight, and if you are very good children- you will get cookies in them! (or sub with your personal preference) But if you are bad-! Ahhhh- if you are bad, you will get, not cookies- but straw! Black Peter will put straw in them.”
Up pops Black Peter, giggling and snickering and wagging his hands at the audience, which promptly rolls on the floor and shrieks.
The Bishop Nicholas is grave. “Peter, Peter! Behave yourself or I will have to use a switch on you! Peter, you are going to put straw in some stockings? Jah?”
Peter looks coy, cocks his head, and makes odd noises that say neither Aye or Nay.
“Ah- he will not tell. Peter, be fair now. No straw for the good children, you know. But be honest as well, straw for the naughty ones!”
Peter snickers again, wags at the children, then turns and throws himself on the Bishop, arms around his neck, mewing noisily. As the Bishop nods his head paternally, Peter slyly turns to the children, waves a free arm and giggles.
After this you can have Peter sing a song or two and the Bishop can end with a hymn and lead the children in a little prayer or two, asking for the grace to be good and to love little Jesus with all their hearts.
Then it is all over. All go rushing about looking for stockings, full of high hopes for cookies.
Last year we opened this book, The Legend of Saint Nicholas, for a family gift on the feast of St. Nicholas and it is full of little legends about him that made him come alive even more to my kids. I also like this version as it tells about him as he truly was, a bishop.
What do you do in your home, St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, neither? What do you do for advent? Will you try out this puppet show? What are your favorite traditions? I’d love to hear all about it!
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