Tomorrow, December 6th, is the commemoration of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra – the man who would be Santa. I know a number of Christians who embrace “the Santa thing” at Christmas, and a number who utterly refuse to expose their children to “the Santa lie.” Some see it as a fun exercise of Christian imagination, some see it as a betrayal of trust and potential buzzkill for real faith. And of course there’s the materialism issue around Christmas presents, too.
One of the older traditions, stemming from the story of Saint Nicholas himself, is for children to leave their shoes by the window (or by the fireplace, or under the Christmas tree) into which Saint Nicholas may put some coins overnight. Depending on the locality and the century, this might be done on Christmas Eve, or tonight: the eve of Saint Nicholas Day! If you’ve got children, this might be a fun way to entertain that childish Christmas joy a couple weeks early. And depending upon their age, chocolate coins might go over better than real ones.
Whatever you do or don’t do, it is worth giving consideration to the original Saint Nicholas. He was a faithful bishop in every way: he cared for the poor, especially children, in his diocese. He defended the faith, attending the Council of Nicea and (at least in legend) gave Arius the heretic a fantastic punch up the bracket for his false teachings about the nature of Christ. He was also martyred, in the end. American imaginative culture has built up quite a story for Santa Claus, much of which is quite fun, but the drift from Saint Nicholas is obviously quite large. It can’t hurt to spend some time tonight or tomorrow rediscovering this excellent Saint of old who has inspired so much creative love for children, all these centuries later!