St. Nicholas of Myra

Tomorrow’s the Feast of St. Nicholas.  When our oldest was born, we were unsure what to do about Santa.  Afraid he’d usurp the meaning of the season, we toyed with the idea of banishing him, sending him back to the North Pole for good.  We thought that maybe we’d instead like to invite the Three Kings over and really play up the Epiphany.  We knew, though, that our house might be one of their few cold weather stops and in time it might be a tough sell for our children who would inevitably lack friends who could share in their excitement and help along the story line.  In short, they just weren’t part of our culture.  We waffled for as long as we could, and then when our daughter was approaching her second Christmas my husband came across “The Other Stocking” by G.K. Chesterton who so beautifully makes the case for Santa that he’s been warmly welcomed in our house ever since.

What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.

As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good–far from it.

And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me.  What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.

I have merely extended the idea.

Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now, I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea.

Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.

I understand the reasons that a mother and father might not welcome Santa at Christmastime, as it is all too easy for him to overshadow the holiness of the day and season.  For us, though, it was enough to see a great thinker and faith-filled man not hampered in his spirituality but actually assisted in it through his belief in Santa.  It resonated with me, a lifelong Catholic who believed in Santa well up to seventh grade and who was eager to pass along such fun memories to her children.  Game’s on, thought my husband and me, as we happily began to incorporate all the fun associated with the jolly spirit into the season.

He is, though, very definitely St. Nicholas, who our children, accustomed to praying to saints, naturally welcome on his feast day.   CCC’s made a great video about St. Nicholas and how he became Santa Claus.  That seems to be a natural progression for a saint in my children’s eyes, going from being wonderful on earth to being wonderful in eternity, which manifests itself in gifts for them—that is, after all, how their mother approaches the communion of saints.

This year, however, my daughter learned from the Macy’s Day Parade about Mrs. Claus, who muddies the waters a bit.  My daughter was very curious about her and asked what her maiden name was.  I told her I didn’t know and pondered how to work Mrs. Claus into it all.  I held my breath, wondering if this new element would push my daughter’s belief to the edge, but it didn’t.  In fact, she and her little brother seemed happy for Santa that he had some company.  I think having befriended Ukrainian Catholic friends during our stay in Canada, dear companions who would eventually become Fr. and Mrs., really helped things along on that account.

So, in our house, Santa is St. Nicholas, the bishop, married to Mrs. Claus of a rather somewhat mysterious background.  He will be filling stockings and dropping off a special gift for each child; the rest will be from Mom and Dad.  Our children are looking forward to the birth of Baby Jesus, enjoying the anticipation with their chocolate Advent calendars, praying and singing around the Advent wreath at night, and helped along in their excitement by the intercession and special presence of St. Nicholas.  Whether or not we got Santa right at our house probably won’t be clear until the children are grown, if even then.  But for now anyway it seems like all is well.  Except that, as my Ukrainian friends tell me, Eastern rite bishops can’t be married.  But here’s hoping that St. Nick doesn’t put the Eastern Code in my daughter’s shoe tomorrow.

Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer