Frank discussions, advice, and opinions from a Catholic Director of Religious Education.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Of Saints and Santas

I don't think I like this...Mama?
My wife and I have been talking a lot about how to celebrate Christmas now that we have our son. We both reject the commercialized hallmark holiday formerly known as Christmas, but I think it's going to be harder than we think to actually separate ourselves from that secular vision. For example, take Santa.

Santa means saint and Santa Clause is based off St. Nicholas, a real saint who was Bishop of Myra (part of modern day Turkey). He was famous for surprise gifts and one legend, at least, presents him with some real "Santa" characteristics. As the legend goes, a poor man had three daughters who were coming of age. Without the money for a dowry, the daughters would almost certainly be unable to find a husband and therefore be forced into prostitution. The bishop learned of this and, on the eve of each daughters coming of age, he threw a bag of money over the roof and into the chimney. The bag fell all the way down and into the stockings below (which were hanging to dry over the embers). 

Now, that is a great story of charity about a real saint. It gives a great reason to hang stockings and even to leave little treats in them, yet how many kids will learn instead about flying reindeer? And that, my friends, is the problem. The fictional, elf enslaving, flying reindeer traveling, "Santa" has become so crucial to children's experience of Christmas that it's going to be very difficult explaining to those around us that we appreciate their desire to give our child a happy memory, but we would rather teach the truth (which is much more amazing, by the way) and focus on the real meaning of Christmas.

Case in point: All my mother wanted for Christmas was a picture of little Eddie with Santa. Now, this seems fine (although Santa has quite a racket by forcing you to buy his overpriced pictures), so long as we emphasize the "St. Nick" part, but this is just one example of a "oh, but you HAVE to" moment that I can see getting out of hand if we don't stay vigilant. I guess what I am saying is that it's OK to indulge in fun Christmas traditions to a point, but the secular, commercial version of Christmas is like a giant black hole that sucks you in. If you don't stay on top of things, I could see it getting out of hand really fast.

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