Thursday, December 6, 2007

Santa Claus and the Gingerbread Army

After my post on Advent, some of you asked what our family does about Santa Claus. Since today is Saint Nicholas' Day, I think I'll tackle the subject. I know there are debates out there about whether or not parents should "lie" to their children and make them believe in someone who doesn't really exist, and I have no intention of getting involved in those debates. I grew up believing in the jolly fellow with a red hat. He was an important part of my Christmas experience until my loving older brother pointed out that Santa's handwriting looked a lot like Mom's on a piece of paper from Dad's desk. (He got in trouble for that one.) My husband's family did not do the Santa Claus thing, and we both seemed to turn out just fine. At least I think we are fine; we don't need therapy for any lingering Christmas issues.

With that out of the way, I will say that we have chosen not to do Santa Claus in our family. As we have become more interested in church liturgy and celebrating the seasons of the church calendar, we find that there are already plenty of people and things to celebrate. We have an Advent wreath and Jesse Tree Banner for Advent, a special breakfast on Santa Lucia Day, slow decorating throughout December, putting the ornaments on the tree and Mary and Joseph in the stable on Christmas Eve, waking up to one present under the tree and Baby Jesus in the creche on Christmas morning, small gifts every day for the twelve days of Christmas, and a galette des Rois to eat and the wise men joining the nativity scene on Epiphany. With a list like that, we don't have room for Santa Claus.

Today is Saint Nicholas day, however, and I decided to teach Calvin a little about the man that inspired the Santa Claus legend. On Tuesday, I made gingerbread dough and refrigerated it overnight. Yesterday afternoon, the boys and I rolled it out and cut and baked gingerbread men. (The actual tradition is spice cookies baked in a Saint Nicholas mold. Too hard for me!) Much to my surprise, the dough recipe made an army of gingerbread men. We had a ton of fun decorating them with icing and M&M's this morning and delivering them as gifts to friends, in the spirit of St. Nicholas. We also read a book about the real man's life. I even had the boys leave out boots last night, and they found a clementine and a Cars car for each of them this morning. (For more about the Cars obsession, read this post.) If you want to know more about Saint Nicholas and ways to teach your children about him, go here.

So that is how we do Santa Claus in our house. So far, Calvin and Hobbes really have no idea who the guy in the mall is, and they greet questions of "What is Santa bringing you this year?" with a blank stare. I am hoping we can keep it that way for a while, lest we become those parents, whose kids send classmates home weeping because they insist that Santa isn't real.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Saint Nick. Did you have him in your home growing up? What traditions do you have surrounding Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas' Day? What do you plan to do with your own children? If you don't do Santa Claus, how do you handle that around other children who do believe in him? I'm looking forward to reading your ideas. In the meantime, I'm going to take down that gingerbread army, one cookie man at a time. Run, run, as fast as you can, little man. I'll still get you.


Rachel said...

great post my friend. i appreciate that you respect both sides of the santa claus choice. i respect your humility and how you're obviously trying to flee self-righteousness in your choice.

i grew up doing the santa thing and don't think i have issues needing therapy either... at least regarding santa anyway! my dh did as well. while i don't have issues from it, looking back, i don't really see much point in it either... at least the way we celebrated it.

as we've approached the issue, we decided to skip it for this year. we're in a yr-by-yr decision and might add him in later. we're starting to add a few Adventisms to our season which is taking lots of time and energy since it's so new to us. so i can totally relate to the "no time left" thing.

right now, we're focusing on explaining various parts of the Christmas story each day... not getting into the waiting part of advent as much. might sound dumb since waiting/prep is the point of Advent, but for our being new, that's a big enough learning curve for us to conquer. we're actually officially starting our advent devotions/activities in a few days. we're slow. but at least we're getting started!

so, for now we're skipping santa not b/c we think he's evil or b/c we're trying to be really holy... but just to try to keep it simple with the Jesus story, to help make the our communication be as filled with Him as much as possible, etc. i do fear that if we were to bring santa in, it would confuse the issue and since he's mostly about gifts... i fear it would naturally become the main subject since of course we all want gifts. i'm certain others who are practicing the Santa thing are working it in healthy ways, and i'm totally respectful of that. i think this way just seems easier and works best for us, for now anyway.

we are totally with you on not wanting our kids to be the annoying kids that spoil the fun for others' kids... that's one issue/cost with skipping santa. we, too, aren't even telling our kids who he is just yet... for the same fear. i'd rather justin be ignorant than to be the one to spoil someone else's fun! not sure how we'll do this as he gets older.

oh, and i think doug and i are (perhaps selfishly) wanting our kids to know the few gifts we do are from us. goofy, i know.

i'd love to hear from someone who does introduce Santa Claus into their home at Xmas time. this is great conversation that welcomes unity that could potentially be a divisive one.

i love how you taught your kids about the real st. nick. very cool.

and with that, justin is waking up. again.

Rachel said...

as if my comment wasn't long enough... love the gingerbread men and the way you closed that post! and great pic! good for you!

TwoSquareMeals said...

Sounds like you are doing some great things for Advent. We started working on this last year, so that's why we are doing more. Sometimes I fear it is too much. But I like your idea of focusing on the Christmas story. "The Advent Book" is great for that. It has one part of the story for each day. You open a door on each page. The illustrations are beautiful.

I totally can't take credit for that photo. It is all about my new, fancy-schmancy camera. I have so many great photos of my boys now. Wish I could post them! Hope everyone gets well there soon.

Emily said...

The cookies look fantastic.

I wish people would stop asking those questions about Santa. I actually had someone ask Zachary if Santa Claus was bringing toys to his house this year. He said no. She then asked if he had been naughty. Seriously?!

He thinks Santa is a goblin. No idea why, but he does.

Catherine said...

I didn't grow up believing in Santa and can't say that it was a big loss. Santa still brought us toys, we just knew it was a game. Ever since I've lived in Europe, I've thought that celebrating as they do on St. Nickolaus day rather than on Christ's day is a nice compromise, and I think I may do that when A is older.

On the other hand, I like what you say (or, imply) in that once we become aware of the actual CHRISTian things to celebrate during Advent, Santa does pale in comparison...

TwoSquareMeals said...

That is so funny that Zachary thinks Santa is a goblin! It must be even more annoying for you to have people ask him about Santa. Hello, out there! Not everyone celebrates Christmas! I guess that is hard to remember since most people don't consider it a religious holiday anymore.

Yeah, I really like doing the St.Nick's day thing so much more. We still have presents on Christmas Day, but we keep it low key and try to focus on the Christmas story.

Mark Horner said...

Not that I presently have children, so I can't answer from that perspective, but if and when I do have children I'd imagine we'll do the Santa Claus thing. It was, of course, a vital part of my own childhood Christmas experience, until I got old enough to figure out that Santa wasn't real...although sometimes I still wonder! ;-)

I think, if handled responsibly, the idea of Santa Claus can be a beautiful *augmentation to* the Christmas season. At its root, Santa represents the selfless giving of the joy of the season. Tempered by the true meaning of the holiday, Christ's Mass, I don't see any reason the two cannot coexist.

That being said, I admire your desire to get to the root of the St. Nicholas story, complete with the spiced cookies and boots left out. As long as you continue to encourage open candor about this topic as Calvin and Hobbes grow up (and encounter schoolmates' questions), I think you'll get along just fine!

Three Cheers for old St. Nick,