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Searching for St. Nicholas Among the Rubble of Santa Claus

alec vanderboom

This is the banner year for us, searching for the holy message of the real Saint among all the trappings of Santa Claus. My parents adore Santa. As kids, we left out cookies for Santa & sugar cubes for the reindeer. We all slept in one bed on Christmas Eve waiting to hear Santa's sleigh.

This is terribly embarrassing to admit, but I believed in Santa Claus until I was 11 years old. My mom called me into the kitchen, concerned that a fifth grader had told my little sister, who was in kindergarten, that Santa wasn't real. My mom's question to me is "How can we make sure that she believes in Santa for again?" I remember staring at the kitchen table and scuffing my shoes against the linoleum. "So it's always just been you and Dad putting presents under the tree?" I thought dejectedly.

At Hannah's first Christmas, I was a new Catholic. I started to worry that while my family did attend church on Christmas Eve, all the of remaining focus on Christmas seemed to be on the frenzy of gift-unwrapping, drinking coffee in our pajamas, and then watching a marathon of movies that everyone had received as presents. It was the Christmas that my 90 year old grandfather got up agitated in the middle of a family viewing of "Being John Malcovich"-that I got my first clue, maybe this isn't how we should spend a Holy Day together. Before then, I was just sort of drifting along the family traditions on automatic pilot. (My brother had gotten Being John Malcovich" in his Christmas stocking and we all said "sure" when he asked to pop the disk into the DVD player.)

So for three years, I've been focused on getting us to Mass and celebrating in a reverent manner. Last year, Hannah could narrate the entire Christmas story with her nativity set. Alex asked to cook Jesus a "Happy Birthday Cake." The issue of Santa arriving to stuff stockings and leave presents under the tree was a happy event, but not the only event.

This year, the questions about the "myth" of Santa and the real St. Nicholas are making a clash in the minds of my 4 & 3 year old. Hannah prays for St. Nicholas to bring her a Butterscotch pony. I heard her sweet, simple prayers with fear in my heart. If I don't fork over $250 will she stop believing in the power of saintly intercession? There seemed to be so much more on the line than the "give kids everything on their Christmas list so they'll be happy & believe in the magic of Christmas" which was the guideline for my parents.

Thankfully, my husband is much more calm. "It will work out. Either we'll find an amazing cheap Butterscotch, or another gift will happily replace it in Hannah's mind" he says confidently. My mother's rosary group had this advice. "Never underestimate the power of St. Nick." "Jesus only got three gifts, so should our kids." And my favorite, "learning to accept God's will after our prayers haven't been answered is a n important life lesson. Four years old is a good time to start." (Yeah, this was mind-bending for me. I don't think I've really got a handle that sometimes God's answer to a sincere, persistent prayer is "no.")

This year I'm starting from scratch. I'm making our own family traditions to honor the gentle, loving Bishop on his feast day. This website has been extremely helpful. Just as I spruce up my house for the coming feast of Christmas, it's time to reorganize some of the clutter in my mind. Out go the tales of Rudolph, the polar express movie, and "Up on the Rooftop" carols. Enter in more conscious acts of charity in imitation of St. Nicholas.

How do you celebrate the real St. Nick in your house?