Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Nicholas in the Orthodox Church.
Before converting to Orthodoxy, I really didn't know much about the real St. Nicholas. I knew he existed. I knew there really had been a man that grew into the legendary figure that most children know today as 'Santa Claus'.
I grew up with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. Oh how I believed!
I would look up into the sky on our way home from Christmas Eve services and wonder if that red light in the sky belonged to a reindeer...or was it just a plane? I went to bed anxiously awaiting the arrival of 'a miniature slay'with
eight tiny reindeer NINE reindeer (we can't remember the most legendary reindeer of all) and 'a little old driver so lively and quick'! AND I was really anxious that Santa just may pass me over with all the adults up in the house making such ridiculous noises!! (okay...don't judge at just how incredibly naive I was and had NO idea they were going up and down the attic stairs to get hidden presents, wrapping and all that adults do on Christmas eve.....)
Orthodox tradition tells us that Nicholas was born to an elderly couple in Asia Minor (Turkey) in 280 AD. His parents had been wealthy. When they died, Nicholas began giving generously to the poor. One story tells of how he had thrown money into the window of a merchant one night in order to save the merchant's daughters from being sold into prostitution due to the merchant's debts. The merchant later discovered who it was but Nicholas did not want the story told - as he wanted all to give glory to God alone. This particular story is the inspiration behind secret gift-giving on the anniversary of St. Nicholas' death - December 6th.
Saint Nicholas later became the bishop of Myra. He was imprisoned during Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians and freed by Emporer Constantine. He died in the year 343 AD.
When we had another child after converting to Orthodoxy, I wondered if we should change any of our customs regarding Santa Claus. The other two children had been raised as I had, believing in a man who drives a sleigh pulled by reindeer. We set up my Department 57 North Pole Villiage each year and hung our stockings by the fireplace. I wondered if this was alright to do. I've decided that it is.
Santa Claus to me, is not just that imaginiary man dressed up in a red suit. He is a symbol. He is a symbol that stands for having the faith to believe in the impossible. It's a symbol to believe that Christmas brings joy, love, 'magic'-- Christmas Magic.... Christmas miracles.... and I believe in Christmas miracles. And I want my children to believe in it too.
Are there other ways to teach about the miracles of Christmas? Absolutely. And I don't fault anyone who chooses not teach their child to believe in Santa. I get it. But I enjoy the wonderment--- I enjoy seeing the eyes twinkle and the anticipation...and the belief that one man loves little children so much that he would encircle the earth to give to them all. And we will teach our child about the real St. Nicholas too...and when he's old enough to comprehend which was real and which isn't so much... we will tell him that too (and whatever that age that my child decides to ask questions or not believe is is up to my child...NOT me) ... but for now...we will continue to take part in that silly part of Christmas -- sitting on the lap of this really nice man and telling him our Christmas wishes.
I still believe. Do you?