I know it’s not even Advent yet, but please forgive me a Christmas-themed post. The realities of the commercial cycle of the year (as opposed to the liturgical one) mean that some things do tend to impinge on one’s awareness. And one of those things is the omnipresence of Santa in our society at this time of year.
For a Christian family, it poses a number of problems. How do we maintain a proper focus on the celebration of the incarnation of our Lord, when every attempt is made to distract us to the altar of materialism? How much of the general Christmas “stuff” is enough? Too much? On the other hand, if we ignore it altogether, are we just robbing our kids (and even ourselves) of something harmless and joyful?
More than that, how to handle the question of Santa. Is it wrong to pretend, to have a little “magic” for kids to believe in? Is it, like any other dishonesty, a disservice to them? Or is it an essential part of growing up to indulge in imaginative play and make-believe, and what better make-believe than one you can share with friends and family?
There are no easy answers, and I don’t pretend to have any. I rather suspect that each family needs to find its own level, dependent in part on family structure and dynamics, cultural traditions, personalities and (let’s face it) financial resources.
But – especially as our daughter is likely to stay an only child – my husband and I have figured out one principle we want to enshrine early. And that is for her, Christmas is not to be only all about what she gets. It has to be more than that. And, mulling this over and tossing ideas around for her to make this a concrete reality in our family traditions, this is what we came up with.
St. Nicholas’ day is the 6th of December. Close enough to Christmas for all the hype to be well under way, for Santa to be in shopping centres and well on the radar of children. So we’ve agreed that on St. Nicholas’ day we will make a point of taking our daughter to choose gifts for children in need, to involve her in wrapping them and giving them where needed. And we will teach her that in doing this, we follow the example of St. Nicholas in serving God by serving those around us, and in this way celebrating the best thing about Santa. And not only will this teach her something about the proper function of saints as exemplars in the Christian life, it will also teach her that before she focusses on what she will get, it’s appropriate to give thought to what she can give.
I hope that by doing something like this, we can find something of the right balance in the midst of a very unbalanced season!