Archives: Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway? #1
Good-bye Santa! Hello, Saint Nick!
(Mike Sherer, an ordained Lutheran minister and free-lance writer, and Kathe Sherer, an R.N., began celebrating Christmas without Santa when their first child was three years old, sixteen years ago.)
Shortly after our firstborn arrived, we talked seriously about the kinds of customs we wanted to establish and perpetuate in our family. We decided we should and could do something about Christmas. What better time, we decided, than when our children were open and accepting of new directions.
We looked at the patterns we as parents had inherited from our own families. Our experiences and frustrations were nearly identical. The giving and receiving of gifts had somehow become transformed, over the years, from an affectionate way of symbolizing our regard for other persons to a garish, frantic, competitive scramble to "exchange" material things none of us needed.
Even though we had both grown up in difficult times, with lean pantries and homemade clothes, as 'we grew older, our homes began to mirror the American experience. Affluence caught up with us and we began to be caught up in it. Our Christmas customs reflected this. The gifts we gave to one another became more elaborate, more numerous and more unnecessary. We had a gnawing feeling that there were a lot of people somewhere who needed basic material things more than we needed to "exchange" goods.
One November, when our daughters were ages three and one, we resolved to do better. We did some research on Santa Claus and discovered that this now-almost-totally-irrelevant prop for the annual orgy of selling and buying actually had very good ancestry. We were fascinated and delighted to make our acquaintance with St. Nicholas, a third-century bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. He was a real flesh and blood Christmas gentleman. He rooted his concept of giving in God's grace. His style, therefore (and one which we decided to adopt), was imitative of Jesus': give without identifying yourself, without seeking repayment, to those truly in need.
Therefore we decided, as an alternative to Santa Claus on Jesus' birthday, to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Nicholas on the date tradition had assigned it, December 6. Since then it has been "Hello, St. Nicholas, Good-bye Santa Claus!" at our house.
Since there is a scarcity of information about how families can observe the feast of St. Nicholas, we were unsure of what steps to take at first. Consequently, we developed our own family rituals. These are some of the things we have done:
- Well in advance of the season we wrote letters to all of the relatives and friends on our gift list and to those from whom we usually received gifts to tell them about our new approach to Christmas celebration. Our proposal to limit gift-giving to birthdays caused some anger and misunderstanding, but by and large we succeeded in making the transition.
- We talk to our children about the Bishop of Myra and his special brand of generosity, and about what we could learn from him.
- We make stocking puppets and a cardboard box puppet theater to act out the story of St. Nicholas.
- On this night, we try to set a festive atmosphere at our dinner table by planning a special menu, eating by candlelight and creating holiday decorations.
- We still cut a tree, but there are not presents under the tree. Instead we cover the floor all around it with books about Christmas. We put all the books about Christmas away with the tree decorations, giving them a year's rest and making them seem "new" each Advent.
- Each year we designate five per cent of our December income for a needy person or family. We ask not to be identified to the recipient, nor to learn who receives the gift. We also design our own greeting cards to go with the gift check.
- We are no longer involved in a "Christmas Rush!" December has become a delightful month in which to remember God's Advent promises.
- We have discovered a far richer spirit and rationale for giving. By giving "in secret" without the possibility of repayment, we have finally made a beginning toward focusing our giving on "the least" of God's family.
- For us, Christmas has been given back to Jesus. On the whole we find more satisfaction than ever in our Christmas celebration. Our daughters have accepted this shift in our practice in giving and celebrating, and they have interpreted it to others. A few years ago in December, one of them came home from school and reported this conversation:
"What are you going to get for Christmas?"
"Nothing. Christmas is Jesus' birthday, not ours.
"Oh, I sure feel sorry for you! You're not getting anything for Christmas!"
"Well, I feel sorry for you if that's all you think Christmas is about!"
Santa Claus hasn't come to our house for many years, but we haven't missed him one bit!
(To the tune of "Jolly Old St. Nicholas")
1. Once upon a long ago
Very far away,
In the town of Bethlehem
Lying in some hay,
Jesus came for you and me
Bringing heaven's love
As a gift for us to have
From the Lord above.
2. In the town of Myra once
Also long ago,
Lived good Bishop Nicholas
Hair as white as snow.
Nicholas loved Jesus who
Loved and helped us all.
"I will do the same," said he
"Helping great and small."
3. Thankful Bishop Nicholas
Friendly, good and wise;
When he could helped the poor
Always by surprise.
Rich men came to Nicholas
Bringing wealth to share
So it could be sent to those
Living in despair.
4. We should be like Nicholas
Thankful, good and kind,
Loving those who need our help
All the ones we find.
Jesus and Saint Nicholas
Taught us how to give:
Share but never seek rewards,
That is how to live!
Mike Sherer, St. Nicholas Eve, December 5, 1972
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