On St. Nick, Santa and Other Christmas-y Things…


A friend asked this question on Facebook and I thought I’d share my response here. And add to it a bit.

“St. Nick came to our house, too, last night! How do you reconcile St. Nicholas with Santa with the kids?”

It actually hasn’t been as much of an issue as I originally thought it would be. I say, “It’s the feast of St. Nicholas! He wants to celebrate with us!” Because it’s true – he’s a real guy, in heaven, celebrating his feast day. They know that Santa is St. Nicholas, too, just a bit of a different name. He wants to celebrate his feast day (today) with us in a little way, but when it’s Jesus birthday, he REALLY wants to celebrate Jesus in an even bigger way. And, when they ask funny questions, sometimes I just answer “I’m not really sure. Hey, did you see those chocolate coins!??!!”

We also read the story of St. Nicholas, and watch a little movie about him, so they realize that he’s a real dude. (quite an exciting person, actually). Hmmm…. what else? Asking “What do YOU think?” can be a good transition, to go along with the chocolate coin distraction!

In our home, we really started out not doing the Santa thing at all… we were trying to mimic one definition of a “good” Catholic family that we had witnessed. And we just thought that was the only way to go.  So, the first few Christmases with our children, there was no Santa. Nope. Not at all. We didn’t want them to be distracted from the real meaning of Christmas. We didn’t want to lie to our kids, stringing them along with a made up story that might end up causing trauma some day.

The funny thing is, as they grew, they believed anyway.

They’d come home from a friend’s house, or from preschool and tell me about him. They’d see a picture in a store and say, “It’s Santa! He comes at Christmas!” They’d insist that they heard him on the roof or saw him in the front yard.

And then we met families that did the ‘Santa Thing’ well. Their kids weren’t heathens, they weren’t materialistic gift mongers. They still loved Jesus and played with the family Nativity scene and went to midnight Mass. They LOVED Jesus and had fun with Santa. Hmmm…

I realized that, like in so many things, there can be a balance between our religion and culture.

There can be an equilibrium between fun and faith.

{Duh. You might say. But, you see, I’m a convert. I wasn’t sure what I was doing (I’m still not). And I was sooooo very worried that I would get it wrong, I guess wanted to err on the side of staunchness (is that a word?). I hadn’t lived Catholicism integrated into a family before. I didn’t know what it looked or felt like. I just knew I wanted it. Badly. (This was me, more than my husband. He already knew all of this, having grown up in a big Catholic family. He was humoring me more than anything. Biding his time till I figured it all out.  What a patient, patient man…) So I was very careful. Us poor converts. We walk a rough and roundabout path sometimes. Don’t hate us.}

So we let it be. We never said anything different, but we let them believe in Santa.

And it has been just fine.

We don’t visit Santa at the mall, we don’t take Santa photos (mostly because they’re so expensive and the lines are too long for my patience). We don’t write him letters with long gift lists. We don’t make him the focus of our Advent and Christmastime.

Jesus, a tiny baby, born in poverty in a village in the boonies – He is our focus. There is no doubt about it.

Santa does fill their stockings and may give them another gift. But, that gift it not that ONE THING of their heart’s desire. That comes from Mom and Dad… because we’d like the credit for that, thank you very much! :) It’s fun, it’s simple and it’s good. Santa is just one of many Christmas traditions around here. And we’re just fine with that.

Every family has their own traditions and customs. We all do things a little differently, and that’s so wonderful. This is just a little peak into our Christmas world.

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas!!

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  1. says

    Your husband sounds like mine.

    And your journey through Catholicism resounds with mine as well.

    We never really have made a big deal out of Santa…and yet…he’s there. I had an aunt, now deceased, who I think believed up until her death at age 50. She somehow made intellectual me believe a little tiny bit, and I still maybe sorta do, even though I try to shake it off.

    Great post, and thanks for sharing it! :)

    • Lauren says

      Thanks Sarah, We really DO need to find a time to go get a cup of coffee and hang out for a few hours. As Anne Shirley would say, “You’re a kindred spirit!” :)

  2. Melissa says

    Lovely, Lauren. Thank you. If you don’t mind me asking…at what age did you start taking your children to Midnight Mass. Any tips on how to make it work logistically, you know, with out any major meltdowns? Thanks!

    • Lauren says

      Hey Melissa, Good question! We didn’t go to midnight Mass when my first 2 were little, but we certainly could have. My tips – don’t have high expectations! :) If you have to step out for a bit, it’s okay. If someone’s a bit cranky or doesn’t want to wear her Christmas dress, that’s okay too. Don’t paint a picture perfect image of what it will be like. It will be however it’s supposed to be, but the best thing is that you’re there, at midnight, with all the other sleep-deprived people, the first to welcome the Christ-child! Other tips, not much sugar the night before, try putting them to bed and then waking them up for Mass, or put on a movie and dim the lights to see if they’ll fall asleep. Mine usually don’t. Take pillows and blankets for the car and even take a blanket into Mass for those who fall asleep. My little ones do, and that’s just fine. :) They’ll still receive the graces from Mass and remember getting ready for Midnight Mass – just the word sounds so exciting to a child! It’ll transform your Christmas!

  3. says

    I’m so thankful to be on my convert journey with you! I think Midnight Mass has been the key to keeping our Christmas Christ-centered. Our entire Christmas Eve is necessarily centered on getting to mass. When your tine is mass-centered, it’s more likely to be Christ-centered. It makes the activities of the day much more simple. The baked goods can be made until, and even on, Epiphany. I use the whole season of Christmas for traditions so they’re not all rushed to be ready on Christmas day. Midnight Mass is anticipated and discussed for weeks before Christmas by the children. They love being up that late and returning to the house aglow with decorations. Then, they finally get to place Jesus in the manger. Santa has always been secondary, almost like some magical joy that could only come out of such a magical evening (early morning).

    On the practical side, they usually don’t wake until after 9:00 which also makes for a relaxed, less-frenzied Christmas morning than the gift-centered ones of my own childhood!

    • Lauren says

      very true, Terri! The same thing goes with Easter Vigil. If your family makes beautiful Masses like those a highlight of the season, then the children will naturally be excited about them. And, when they’re done year after year, they form fabulous memories and holiday habits that they (hopefully) will take with them as adults.

      • says

        Yes, we go to the Easter Vigil for the same reason. I like to tell them that’s how I was baptized, but I’m so happy they didn’t have to wait that long!

    • Jessica says

      I LOVE this…”When your tine is mass-centered, it’s more likely to be Christ-centered.” This post is a reminder for me to read yours and Lauren’s blog daily!

  4. Erin says

    We have had the same experiences. We never encouraged Santa, but he is there and we are fine. Of course, Andrew asked me point blank this year if Bruce and I were Santa. We were in the middle of hauling out boxes and getting out ornaments to decorate the tree. I was so caught off guard that all i could say was, “let’s talk about that later.” He never asked again and I’m stuck with what to say. I don’t want to make up some story to perpetuate Santa, but I also think he’s too young to lose that magic.
    I’ve been praying for discern,net on what to say. I hate to leave it in the air. He wasn’t really excited this morning for st. Nicholas, but also he was expecting a Lego figurine which I mistakenly (meaning stupidly, not accidentally) put in their shoe last year.

    Anyway, y’all make Midnight Mass sound so amazing. Maybe I’ll talk to Bruce and we could try it this year.

    • Lauren says

      I wouldn’t fret too much, Erin. I think it’s okay to let it go, and it’s okay to tell him if he really insists on knowing. They hear things from other children, so it’s natural for them to wonder. I think if you focus on the other, beautiful traditions of this time of year, knowing (or not knowing) will be less important to him. I think those people we know who were completely crushed when they found out the truth about Santa probably came from homes where Santa and presents were pretty much 99% of what Christmas was about. In that case, it really would be distressing. However, if we fill the days of Advent and Christmas with the richness of the season, the stories, feast days, prayers, Church activities, then the Santa thing becomes less important. My 2 cents, anyway :)

  5. says

    I often feel like I am beating a dead horse with all of my intricate explanations to the kids, sometimes, I’m so fearful they will not get things “right” without all my ramblings. But I think they understand things at face value, based on the choices we make as a family in the ways we spend our time, money and our focus during Advent and Christmas. I too am on a learning journey of trusting that we are raising sensitive, faithful, intelligent children who aren’t going to end up in theological confusion or therapy because their parents couldn’t sufficiently explain the nuances of the differences between St. Nicholas and Santa. (they’ll end up in therapy for other things!) When all else fails, I can always fall back on my Mother’s explanation for things in our faith (she is also a convert) “it is a mystery!” :)

  6. Gina says

    Excellent piece Lauren! Even cradle Catholics muddle through this! Our Family celebrates it all! I tell the children that since we know who Santa really is and we celebrate his entry into Heaven he brings them a little gift on that day. I have the kids write down their Christmas wish in letter form to St Nick, it goes in their shoe. They usually have just one item that they are really dreaming about. St Nick answers them back the next day, complimenting their virtues and giving them suggestions for improvement all with a heavenward sentiment. With that being done, we can now focus our attention on Jesus and preparing the manger of our heart. Yes we have the chocolate advent calendar, yes we fill stockings and hang a big key outside to let Santa in, yes we get presents Christmas morning from Santa and it’s all good. Our home has it’s share of Santas and snowmen, but it is filled with nativities from around the world and every year I try to add one to the collection. We have an African one made out of grass and straw, a Polish one made of colored foil, a German spinning one, clay ones from Mexico and Peru. Last year I found a treasure of one from Japan at a thrift store. The kids love looking at them and anticipate Christmas Eve because that is when we place the Christ Child in each nativity along with a battery operated votive candle. Then for the next 12 days, the children receive a small gift from the Christ Child and on Epiphany they get 3 presents in honor of the kings. The beauty of this gift giving is that all the Christmas stuff is 50-80% off… We don’t spend ourselves silly, but we do celebrate!

    • Lauren says

      I love this, Gina! Such beautiful traditions your family has created! Knowing you, I’m sure your home is full of joyfulness, especially this year! :) I, too, hope to collect nativities, but I’m afraid my house isn’t big enough for all the ones I’d love to have. And, you know, we’ve never really done anything for Epiphany, besides Mass, maybe this year we’ll start! Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Jessica says

    I cannot tell you how THANKFUL I am for you writing Lauren! I think it is quite fascinating how a book, an article, a poem, or post falls into your lap at just the write time…especially during discernment. I related so much with Julia and her “ramblings” today. We didn’t grow up celebrating Saint Feasts Day in our family, but after moving to College Station and meeting all of you wonderful Catholic Mamas, I have had more fun and found true JOY in celebrating these days with our children!

    • Lauren says

      Hi Jessica! I think we are all searching for our way to do things. I remember one older mom whom I greatly admire once said, the most important thing is to celebrate joy and peace. If we’re so stressed out about getting everything, or our plans going off without a hitch, then our celebration (and maybe our children) will suffer. That’s why, in recent years, I’ve actually tried to do LESS, but with more love. Enjoy your celebrations with your lovely family!

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