It starts with St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. We think that St. Nicholas was a great man, and the true (as far as we know) story of the real man has greater meaning to us than the man who lives in the North Pole and flies in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Although we aren’t Catholic, we see value in celebrating this holiday. It gives meaning to the man our children constantly see in a red suit this time of year, without detracting from celebrating the birth of our Savior. On St. Nicholas day, our children receive their stockings. Here is what we have in the stockings:
- A candy cane, representing the crozier St. Nicholas would have carried, but more importantly, the Shepherd’s staff.
- Gold-leafed candy, representing the money St. Nicholas gave to free the three sisters from slavery.
- An orange, and some other treat, to remind us of how St. Nicholas freely fed the poor.
- Some other stocking stuffer from the dollar store, just to make it fun.
We debated a lot about what to do with Santa. Eventually we decided to do the stocking thing on December 6th, with just stocking stuffers. We also celebrate 3 kings day, which Michael learned about on his mission to Mexico. That’s when all of the big stuff comes. We did it on the traditional January 6th a couple of years ago, but I felt like that dragged the holiday season on way too long, so we’re going to do it the first Saturday after New Years from now on. On Christmas day, we had yummy food and made it a special family day, but there is no gift exchange. We focus on celebrating the birth of the Christ Child, and preserve it a special religious day. It’s a little different, but it has been a nice tradition for us so far.
To be clear, I have absolutely no objection to telling children that Santa is real. I believed in Santa when I was young. My dad said that he really struggled with whether or not to do Santa too, and he decided that it would be fine because our church believes in proxy work. Santa is about anonymous giving, and by giving to your children as Santa, they don’t know that it’s you. I like that way of thinking up to a point. Santa is real as far as he is an idea. I also like the approach of not directly lying to kids about Santa but not directly telling them either. When kids ask about Santa, some parents turn around and ask their kids right back. “Well, what do you think?”
Yes, hopefully my kids won’t spoil the secret for other kids, we have told them not too. We have tried to not make a big deal out of it, because if they know “a big secret”, they will be more apt to want to share it. Instead, we hype it up as a big, fun game that people like to play, kind of like Star Wars. Peter never tells his friends that Yoda isn’t real, or that light-sabers are only an illusion made with digital technology, he just plays along. Our kids know all about Rudolf and elves at the North Pole, and they love the stories, but they are on par with Cars and Tangled. So far this has worked for us. When they get a little older and can keep a secret, we’ll make a bigger effort to make sure they know that it’s a secret they should keep.
Before I close, here’s how I make gift-giving easy for myself: kids only get individual presents from us on their birthdays. When my kids need clothing items, we just get them, so it isn’t a part of our gift-exchange. My oldest is only 6, when they are older and care more about clothing, this may change. For now they are content with thrift store stuff. We also occasionally offer our children toy prizes for accomplishing academic goals. For Christmas, all of the gifts on 3 Kings day are gifts for the entire family. I’m unashamed to admit that they are first and foremost educational items. Last year it included items such as the entire Magic School Bus DVD set. I’m really glad that we decided to do family gifts- this way the kids aren’t jealous of each other, I don’t feel like I need to spend $10 more, or whatever, to make the gift distribution more fair (ie, if I buy this thing for kid A, I need to buy something else for kids B, C, and D), and it gives our family more opportunities to share. This holiday season we are moving to California, so physical gifts will be at a minimum, including external family gift exchanges we are opting out of. Instead, we are giving our kids a year-membership to Legoland. (I’m so excited!)
Christmas, Santa, and holiday traditions will vary from family to family, and there’s really no right or wrong way to do it. However you do it, I hope you have a happy and safe holiday season!