Like most modern families, we’ve tried to create our celebrations around our needs. From the buffet of inherited traditions, adopted moments and new creations, we have found our way. But for some reason, Christmas has always held the biggest challenge. Perhaps because it is festival that lives widely in the mainstream, and we live our lives paddling an undercurrent of society. (In other words, Candlemas is not an issue since most of you are likely saying, Candle what?) What Christmas is to us, is not what it is for many. So we are left with the challenge of balancing the desire to hold Christmas in our own unique way while embracing the love that flows toward us from friends and family who have their own ways of celebrating.
When we started building our Christmas, we knew we wanted it to be simple, of course. We knew we wanted there to be space for family, friends and delicious food. We wanted to exchange simple gifts that were expressions of love and gratitude and brought genuine joy to the recipients. And above all, we wanted to preserve the space for reverence of this turning point in the evolution of mankind: the birth of the Christ Child, bringing with Him all of His gifts.
What we weren’t so sure about was Santa. We were a little turned off by the way excess seems to accompany him wherever he goes. But more than that, we just couldn’t connect to his story. We simply could not wade through the materialism surrounding him to get to the true picture of his origins. Without this connection, we couldn’t imagine bringing it to the children. And yet, rooted in the story of Santa is a very profound picture of grace: sometimes we don’t have to do any work at all, and the universe still sends us gifts to help us on our way. In removing Santa from our lives, we did not want to forgo this picture of grace.
After some searchings of the heart, we settled on the origin of Santa: St Nicholas, a fourth century Greek Bishop. His festival is still celebrated throughout Europe. For the countless miracles attributed to him, he is sometimes called “The Wonderworker.” He is said to have been particularly fond of delivering secret gifts to children, especially those in need. There are also many stories of him providing food in times of famine. For his qualities of generosity, love and charity, he was the perfect fit for us. Only one question remained, “when should he arrive?” In an effort to allow St Nicholas and the birth of the Christ Child their own rightful space for celebration, we opted to invite St Nicholas into our home on his feast day, December 6th. It has the added benefit of bringing simplicity to the season by spreading out the gift giving.
St. Nicholas’ secret nighttime visit has become one of the children’s favorite moments of the year. Our Advent calendar, made by a beloved godmother, happens to have St. Nicholas on it. As the wheel turns a bit more everyday, we first glimpse his feet, then his staff becomes clear, his companion Rubricht, and finally his bishop’s hat. This adds greatly to our anticipation of his arrival. To get ready, we bake cookies for him and leave them out with carrots and hay for his donkey and a pot of tea used only once a year, in his honor. In the past years we’ve made Lebkuchen, but it is quite an involved recipe, so we’re opting for a much simpler Pfeffernussen this time. We leave our stockings out and he fills them with something to keep us warm, something to bring health, a sweet treat and a handful of nuts to crack. Since we do little no gift giving in our immediate family on Christmas Day, St Nicholas often brings a few new toys for us all to share–this year a new collection of these beautiful blocks, toadstools and new friends for the elf house. In the center of the table is a basket of pantry food items such as flour, raisins and dried beans. And he would never stop by without leaving a basket of oranges.
Mystery solved. That is until they’re old enough to wonder why Santa doesn’t know our address. Mattheus has already started arguing that St. Nicholas does not have a donkey, but reindeer that pull his sled. Oh, my. So it starts. But, we’ll wait to unravel that one until it fully arrives.