What’s a Christian parent supposed to do with Santa Claus?  I grew up with the chubby old man in a red suit with a sack of presents on his back, but many Christians get offended at the incorporation of Santa  into Christmas celebrations.

While we’ve always talked of Santa Claus here in our house, we have also talked in more depth about the real St. Nicholas.  St. Nicholas lived many years ago in the continent of Asia.  At an early age, he dedicated his life to God; and, when his parents passed away leaving him with all their money and possessions, he began giving it all away to those in need.  In fact, one legend of this generous spirit is what led to a famous secular Santa tradition.  It is said that St. Nicholas heard of a poor father who could not provide suitable dowries for his three young daughters.  These girls could not, therefore, find good husbands and were on the brink of being forced into prostitution to provide for themselves.  St. Nicholas allegedly began tossing sacks full of gold coins, thus providing the girls with their needed dowries.  Some legends go further to suggest that the gold was placed in stockings left out to dry. . .  others even go to the extent of saying he threw the bags down the chimney where they somehow magically made it into the girls stockings. . .  At any rate, you can see why we hang stockings at Christmas (for Santa to fill with goodies).

Some legends exist claiming that St. Nicholas performed life-saving miracles on some children making him one of the Catholic Church’s patron saints of children which also fed into the idea of a Santa Claus who loved children enough to give them all gifts for Christmas.

Unfortunately, we are a greedy culture that allows our children to be consumed with Santa Claus the bringer of all the toys on kids’ Christmas wish-lists; but we neglect to introduce our children to the real St. Nicholas who was known for his generosity and selflessness.  That’s why, regardless of your opinion about factoring Santa into your Christmas celebrations, talking to your kids about St. Nicholas as an example of a generous spirit can do nothing but good.

Each Advent, on December 6th, our family celebrates St. Nicholas – some years our celebration is elaborate, some years it is simply a retelling of his story over a little sack of chocolate coins.  Here are some ideas to help you plan your own St. Nicholas Day traditions:

  • Begin the day with chocolate coins.  While the kids sleep at night you can hide a sack of chocolate coins in each child’s shoe or sock.  When the kids find the coins in the morning, use the opportunity to tell them a child-friendly version of the story of St. Nicholas and the three sisters.
  • St. Nicholas is also the patron saint of bakers which makes December 6th the perfect day for baking Christmas cookies!  This is our favorite day for baking and decorated cut-out sugar cookies.
  • This is also a good day to go out and buy your real Christmas tree or set up your artificial tree.  Also, hang those stockings if you haven’t already done so.
  • We have, in the past, reserved St. Nicholas Day for writing letters to Santa.  This year I plan to have the kids write letters to Santa expressing what needs they’d like to help provide for in the lives of others.
  • Take the kids shopping for family members.  Or have them make gifts!
  • If you already have all your gifts lined up, have the kids wrap them.  They can even decorate their own gift-wrap.
  • Choose a local charity or foreign mission to give to as a family.

In all your celebrating, don’t forget to teach your children about the real St. Nicholas and his desire to give what he had to others.

Just one thing to do today:

Plan an easy but meaningful St. Nicholas’ Day.  Fill it with a small tradition or two that will draw the family in and get them thinking about giving.  Make a list of what you will need to have on hand that day, and go shopping now so you can dedicate yourself to a family day on the 6th.  Let any busy family members know the plan so they can arrange to be a part of the fun, too.