Friday, December 28, 2012

Elementary Activities: What I Tell My Children About Santa

By Deborah Pace Rowley

Katie turns the tradition of the snowman on its head!

And I do that same thing with the tradition of Santa Claus. How do I do that, you ask?
Well, I still believe in Santa Claus! That means my conversation with my kids about the big guy's reality is different than most Moms. Let me explain. (Spoiler Alert: If you are a kid reading this, ask your Mom or Dad if it is okay first!)

When my children are about ten years old and I can sense they are becoming skeptical, I tell them that they are now old enough to have a special talk with Mom on Christmas Eve after everyone has gone to bed. That usually gets them pretty excited and they wait anxiously for the moment when everyone is in bed and they can sneak out of bed for our "talk."

Then we sit down together and I tell them the story of the real Saint Nicholas. This is what I say:

"A long time ago there was a real man named Nicholas who went around doing good to others. He wanted people to remember Jesus so he did acts of service in Christ's name. One time he learned of a poor family that couldn't afford food. The father was considering selling his oldest daughter. Nicholas didn't want that to happen and so he threw a bag of money into their window. Once a year he would throw another bag of money in their window to help the family until all their daughters had grown up. This is where the tradition of giving gifts for Christ's birthday began.

After Nicholas died, he became a Saint in the Catholic church. People wanted to continue to give gifts in his honor for Christmas. Different people took a turn at becoming Saint Nicholas. People wrote stories about him and the stories grew and became more fun and creative with each retelling. He was given different names in different countries and in different stories such as Santa Claus and Kris Kringle and Father Christmas.

The stories about a jolly fat man with a sleigh and reindeer in the North Pole are just pretend. But Saint Nicholas is real. Even though I am a grown up, I still believe in Santa Claus. I believe in the magic that happens at Christmas time. I am so lucky that I get a turn to be Santa Claus on Christmas Eve for my kids but I think Saint Nicholas is still part of the celebration. I think he is going around doing good as an angel at Christmas time. Miracles happen every Christmas and I think Saint Nicholas is part of that. It feels different and special and I know that anything can happen. And now that you are old enough to know this secret, it is your turn to be Santa Claus."

My children's eyes get wide at this point and I hand them all the Christmas stockings. For this one special year, they get a turn to fill our Christmas stockings. I don't have specific stocking stuffers for each child but I let my 10 year old "choose" what goes in each stocking. They get to decide which color mittens or scarves each of their sibling gets and which coloring book or PEZ dispenser goes in each stocking. It is a thrill to see how excited they are to choose and how carefully they fill each stocking.

When they are done, I remind them that now they have been officially adopted in the Santa Claus club they can't tell anyone else what they know. I encourage them to watch for the magic and try to catch signs of Saint Nicholas around us. I also tell them that now that they are giving gifts in Saint Nicholas' name, they need to continue to do that every Christmas season. They won't be able to fill stockings again until they have kids of their own but they can do other things. They can put coins in the Salvation Army bucket. They can find ways to help and be kind to others all season long because that is what Saint Nicholas would do. Then I send them back to bed with a hug and a kiss and my husband and I get to finish setting out the rest of the gifts.

I have loved this conversation with each of my children. I think they have been excited rather than disillusioned or disappointed in learning the truth. And this is truly what I believe so I can have this conversation with an open heart and without guilt or regret. I know other Moms make a different decision on one side of the Santa Claus debate or the other but I wanted to share my tradition with you. Good luck in deciding what and when you want to tell your kids about Santa.

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