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Monday, December 5, 2011

the Santa Question & St. Nicholas Day

St. Nicholas Day Necklace

It's not that I dislike the old man completely, it's just that I find him to be an unwelcome party crasher. Christmas is Christ's day, but our humble King fades to the background when Santa in his bright red suit and jungle bells enter the scene - with toys! I don't hate Santa, I just resent him.

When our oldest child was a baby we could just ignore him all together.  The older she gets, the more I've struggled with the Santa question.  It seems cruel to deny her the anticipation of Santa Claus coming to town and the excitement of his gifts on Christmas morning.  Still, the wonder of Christmas must be Christ!  In part, I found my solution in St. Nicholas of Myra.

First, in our home we downplay the whole Santa issue. If the children bring him up, fine, great.  If there is a song about him on the radio, fine, great.  If we're walking through the mall or driving around town and we see the jolly old man, fine, great.  I just don't talk about him very much, and preparing our hearts and homes for Christmas keeps us busy, so he simply isn't missed. 

When we do talk about Santa, I use the name St. Nick or St. Nicholas interchangeably; just as in our culture, they are one in the same.  But here's the real scoop on St. Nick.  The church remembers St. Nicholas of Myra on December 6.  Nicholas was a bishop in the city of Myra, part of present day Turkey, and took part the Council of Nicaea.  He is beloved around the world for his kindness, sharing the inheritance gained from his wealthy parents, as well as the many great legends that surround ministry and notorious generosity.  Visit the St. Nicholas Center website to read more.  
St Nicholas holding Advent wreath
When you view images of St. Nicholas,  it's easy to see how his bishop's mitre morphed into the Santa hat we see today.  As for the name Santa Claus, this name comes to us through the German "Sankt Niklaus". 

St. Nicholas or Santa Claus didn't always just come sneaking down the chimney to leave gifts for good boys and girls, although there is legend of him tossing sacks of gold coins into the windows of some helpless damsels in need.  Santa's traditional visits were more like our present day mall visits, but for a lot more than just a photo op. Santa came, in costume, to visit the children at their home, making sure they knew their Catechism, and to help prepare them for the coming Christ child. Doesn't this sound more like a visit from the pastor than from some fat old elf!? (In a few day's I'll be posting a sweet story about C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and his childhood run in with Santa in this way!)  Also, St. Nicholas didn't come alone.  Instead of bringing along trusty elves or even reindeer, Santa was accompanied by "Krampus", an ugly little devil who dealt with the naughty children!  Yikes!

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day accomplishes much.  First, it allows us to keep some of the fun of Santa and the anticipation of his coming to visit.  Second, by moving his day up to the 6th, instead of the 25th, it separates Santa's day from Jesus' day.   Most importantly, it allows me to describe Santa correctly, as someone who points us to Christ. "Santa is Jesus' helper.  Santa was a pastor, just like Pastor Lingsch.  Santa loved children and wanted to tell them that Jesus is coming!"  

Krampus does not make an appearance at our home, and Santa doesn't either, but the children do leave our shoes out for him to fill with gold coins (chocolate!) and other treats in keeping with the old German tradition. By the way, my friend Liz recently expressed her frustration that grocery stores don't carry Advent candles, although they do carry candles for Hanukkah.  Hanukkah celebrations also call for gold coins, so luckily finding chocolate gold coins are readily accessible this time of year!

 Last year we also made St. Nicholas Day necklaces!  We'll wear them again this year too, because they are so darling, and actually have a nice Second Article of the Apostles Creed connection too.

If you watch the TV show Pawn Stars you know that the icon for pawn stores is three gold balls.  St. Nick is the patron saint of pawn stores - yes, even pawn stores have taken a patron saint!  The gold balls represent the redemption of the three young ladies through his gift of three bags of gold - although now it is probably more of a symbol of the pawnbrokers willingness to buy gold!

We made our gold ball beads by gluing sequin ropes to wooden balls, as seen on Martha Stewart.  Click to see how!  Once dry, just string onto gold ribbon or cording. Of course, in addition to the earthly redemption St. Nicholas gave those young ladies, we wear our necklaces looking forward to the coming of our Redeemer, Christ Jesus, who saves us for eternity, not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own!  Three is the perfect Trinitarian number too!

Meaning of Second Article of the Apostles' Creed from Luther's Small Catechism
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.

It's time to set out our shoes!

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  1. Awesome! We, too, don't make a big deal out of Santa. In fact, I just often ignore or pass off the conversation because I don't like to lie to the boys. Truth be told, I want them to appreciate our hard work and love we show through their gifts...not thank an imaginary person who doesn't exist. Did you see my Doodle Pad post? I linked it up to a ton of blogs today, so maybe you'll get some people hopping over here.

  2. Hey- you don't really know me- I'm Pastor Reetz's daughter and my mom shared your site. You are so creative.

    My parents didn't push Santa either, and the minute I asked if he was real (age 3) they said no. My big fear now with a 6 year old is the "Is Jesus real" question, that logically follows. Heart breaking!

  3. Thank you for writing! I've been thinking about your comment for the last couple days, and think your concern is an inevitable reality; it's part of our sinful nature to question and resist God, young and old. "I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him." Thankfully, the Holy Spirit brings and keeps us in the faith. As parents we expose them to the Word and Sacrament, then talk with them and pray! I don't look forward to this question either, but I think I'd rather have my children intellectually discuss their questions with me than not care/think about it enough to ask! I think you have a pretty great resource in those grandparents too! Please give them my best.