An Argument for Santa: #2 He’s Based on Saint Nicholas

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Yesterday I started a short series examining the arguments I frequently hear when I tell someone that we don’t do Santa, beginning with the biggest one, “Because it’s FUN.” Today I’m continuing with the second biggest reason I’m given:

Reason #2: Santa Claus is based on Saint Nicholas.

Ever. So. Loosely.

I’ve written about how Saint Nicholas became Santa Claus before. The short story is that legend of the Turkish priest spread throughout Europe, which was brought to America by the Vikings, and the Dutch and Spanish settlers.

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Since then, the printing press and the television have given us “Santa Claus” as we know him today, giving him an elfish appearance, reindeer and elf helpers. The only thing that Santa still has in common with Saint Nicholas is giving gifts to kids but even then, there’s a difference. I can’t speak for Saint Nicholas, obviously, but what he stood for and what Santa stands for are so vastly different, I don’t think Saint Nicholas would like to be compared to him at all.

Bear with me a second.  Hear me out.

Santa preaches bribery and then unmerited reward. He says “be good or you’ll get a lump of coal.” But then he brings presents anyway. Kids know this. Kids know they’re going to get a present from Santa whether they’re good or not. In the moment, the empty threat may encourage them to obey but deep down inside they KNOW they’re getting a present. And on Christmas Day they KNOW they weren’t always good, but they got a gift anyway.

Santa often brings extravagant or frivolous toys. Extra things, things we don’t need, things that are over the top or out of our budget but we scrape for it anyway. Santa’s presence, his extravagant gift giving, the practice of writing letters and creating abundant wishlists, these things breed and encourage an attitude of “getting” – greed, gluttony and coveting. It’s hard for kids, and even adults, to separate these things from Christmas when Santa is involved.

By contrast, Saint Nicholas didn’t give empty threats or bribery. Saint Nicholas gave to THOSE IN NEED. He saw needs, he met them. And why? Because Jesus loved the people, so Saint Nicholas loved the people. Saint Nicholas also gave THINGS THEY NEEDED. Need shoes? Here you go. A dowry? Here’s some money for that. Need some food? No problem. And Saint Nicholas gave and gave and gave. He was born monetarily wealthy, and he died monetarily poor, but rich in love. Because Saint Nicholas loved God so much, he gave all he had.

I’m not against getting gifts, or toys, or even some nice things. But I find an attitude of Giving and Thanksgiving have trouble thriving in Santa’s presence. Santa doesn’t preach “give to others.” He bellows, “what do YOU want for Christmas, little boy?” And most definitely we can give and meet needs and serve others without Santa’s help.

One of the things that we’ve changed around here since cutting out Santa is changing what goes in the Christmas stocking – a tradition we chose to keep because those actually DO tie back into the story of Saint Nicholas. Following in Saint Nicholas’ tradition, the stocking is used to give fun but mostly necessary items. A new compact mirror, a hairbrush set, fun ponytail holders, gum, a new belt, character socks, chap stick, a watch, and so on. There’s probably going to be a hot wheel car or a my little pony type small thing in there, too. But most of it will be useful, needed and fun. The kids still enjoy seeing what’s inside their stockings (even though the girls joke they get a new hairbrush in their stocking every Christmas.) (Shh… not this year, they’re not!) =p

Another tradition I’ve been pondering is the whole tradition of making a wishlist. In an effort to keep the kids from going overboard, I’ve always encouraged them to keep their lists short and not too expensive.  As a result they usually receive almost everything on it, and exactly what they wanted. Everybody’s happy, but I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be better if they DIDN’T get everything they asked for, if there were some things they got they didn’t ask for that they liked, if there was more of an element of surprise and less of a certainty that they were going to get what they wanted. I dunno… I’m just thinking out loud and haven’t really come up with any answers on that one yet. I’d be interested to know what you think.

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For a long time, the “fact” that Santa Claus was based on Saint Nicholas made me indecisive about cutting Santa out of our tradition. But studying the history and learning more about the truth of how Saint Nicholas became Santa, seeing the notable differences between the two, freed me up to let Santa go without any guilt or ill feelings. I’m not ditching Saint Nicholas, I’m letting go of a tradition that no longer resembles Saint Nicholas at all.

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It’s the huge crevasse of difference between what Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas stand for that leads me to say that for me, the “Santa is based on Saint Nicholas” argument bears no weight with me at all.

I understand that most people really do think Santa Claus is okay because he’s based on Saint Nicholas, and that they don’t know enough about Saint Nicholas to see the differences. Parents genuinely want to do right by their kids and they want them to have the best Christmas experience they can. This is why I hear this argument so much. I fully acknowledge their right to do Santa if they want to. But for us, it’s not a good enough reason to “do it anyway” and so I choose to abstain.  I’ll write about the next reason in another post, but for now I want to leave you with some good reading to enjoy. God Bless!

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Brandy aka Lil' Momma
Brandy aka Lil' Momma
December 21, 2011 11:53 am

WOW! I love this. I plan on reading this to my husband. We did Santa for the first 4 years of my son’s life (he is 12 now) then we sorta dropped off and stopped even talking about him. Now we have a 4 year old and a 3 year old and we don’t have do Santa at all. We look at Santa as a cartoon character like Buzz and Woody from Toy Story. It is hard right now cause we try to not make a big deal about it to our 4 year old cause if we tell her… Read more »

December 21, 2011 12:31 pm

Thanks, Brandy!! I was scared about telling my middle when she was 4, for the same reasons (in fact, I wrote a rather long comment on the first post about how all that went: We waited a year before telling her and just didn’t really talk about Santa much in the meantime. Even at age 5, I was worried about her blurting it out. So every time we went over to play with friends I would remind her not to say anything, that they had to wait for their parents to tell them, and that if Santa came up… Read more »

December 21, 2011 1:08 pm

Love this post as much as the last one. Re: wish lists. I have never encouraged lists. I know my kids, and I know the kinds of things they like. (And as they get older, they are pretty good about hinting. 🙂 ) I also know the kinds of things their father and I want them to have. So, buying gifts is easy for us, without wish lists, and there is no worry about missing something on the list and having discontent on Christmas morning. (My husband and I are another story. We need wish lists to find things for… Read more »

December 21, 2011 7:58 pm
Reply to  Margaret

Thank you!! We started doing lists because family asked what they wanted and I asked the kids and poof! A wishlist was born. Plus, we didn’t do letters to Santa, so we had the wishlist instead. I can totally see how some of these traditions got started… things like letters to Santa and sitting on Santa’s lap asking for gifts are ways to help the parents know what their kids want.. it makes sense. But like you said, I have a pretty good idea what they like. This year I bought several things not on their wishlist, on purpose.. things… Read more »

Brandy aka Lil' Momma
Brandy aka Lil' Momma
December 21, 2011 10:21 pm

I read your blog post to my hubby tonight. :^) He so agreed w/ you. We where both wondering if you had looked at why the Christmas tree w/ lights and all? Do you include them too. I love the Christmas tree, even though I have to have a fake one due to allergies. But my hubby could do w/o one. I tell him every year it is for the kids sake. We do the stockings w/o issues. I have hand made one for each of us. You can see those on one of my Christmas blog post. :^) Again… Read more »

December 22, 2011 8:39 pm

Ahh! I just had a fairly long, really good reply almost completely typed up and I lost it. =( Short story is that I love my tree and I would have a really hard time getting rid of it! This post talks about how we use symbolism on our tree. When I put the ornaments away I group them by color or kind and when we decorate it the next year we pull them out one group at a time. Casually as we decorate the tree I ask the kids what each one symbolizes and we talk about all… Read more »

Paula Wethington / Monroe on a Budget
Paula Wethington / Monroe on a Budget
December 24, 2011 7:23 am

Good for you for keeping the traditions that make sense to you, and ignoring the others. While we did have Santa in our home, he was never the main focus because the gift pile was not very big to begin with. We also had St. Nicholas visit on Dec. 6 with some treats or a small gift. The stories relating to the two are indeed so different that we told my daughter when she was little that St. Nicholas was “retired” and he handed off the main gift-giving duties to Santa. But St. Nicholas would still visit where ever he… Read more »

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