Catholic Spirituality,  Evangelization,  Family Life,  feast days,  liturgical living,  saint days

St. Nicholas lives at the North Pole

We do a kind of liturgical/secular mashup in this house come Advent, both in reverence for the all-but-invisible-in-America season in the Church year and in concession to, well, the same thing.

We can’t shield our children from the life-sized Santa Claus and Nativity displays at Costco come October, and, frankly, why would we want to? I’m glad there’s something meaningful to distract them while I’m frantically shoveling bulk meat products and cases of black beans into my double wide cart.

But Advent.

My husband was raised in a more, shall we say, liturgically rigorous household, and so it was not uncommon for a tree to be procured as late as Christmas Eve itself.

My side of the tracks? We pop out both fake trees the first or second week of November and the halls are fully decked by the time the Thanksgiving turkey is on the table.

So we’ve had to compromise, coming together to create a meaningful and realistic celebration of this most joyous time of year, respecting the austerity and recollection of Advent while at the same time acknowledging that we live in 21st century America, and our kids are going to hear Silent Night once or 233 times between now and December 25th.

Enter St. Nicholas.

He’s the perfect vehicle to bridge the gap between the secular and the religious, and he is a very cool saint in his own right, too. Whether you identify more with the tenderhearted bishop who paid off the dowry for a young family of sisters, saving them from sexual slavery, or the righteous zealot who punched a heretic in the face while defending the divinity of Christ, there really is something for everyone.

Plus, the guy is everywhere come November.

We use St. Nicholas and Santa Claus interchangeably, and it works out great. All over town, all over Target, and all over tv there are images of the jolly saint in red, helping to remind us to prepare our hearts for the great mystery of the Incarnation: the Nativity of Jesus.

On the evening of December 5th, our kids place letters they’ve written to St. Nicholas in their shoes, arranged under the Christmas tree. The letters are a truly bizarre mashup of prayer requests, toy lists, and messages of gratitude for the blessings of the past year. But the morning of December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas, our kids find that St. Nicholas has retrieved his letters in the night and left shoes full of chocolate coins – or this year Dollar Spot Nutcrackers and new winter jammmies along with my favorite CCC of America movie of all time (because chocolate before Mass has burned us before. Burned us real good) – to remind them how sweet it is to prepare our hearts and home for the coming of baby Jesus.

Best of all? St. Nicholas pens a letter to them in return, encouraging them to keep Advent filled with good deeds and obedience and that if they do their best, he’ll be back on Christmas Eve.

Simple, meaningful, and an easy translation to connect Santa Claus to Jesus Christ. And it saves the trip to the post office to send letters off to the North Pole.

May your Advent season be marked by childlike wonder, and may your hearts be opened to the miraculous reality of Jesus Christ made man, lying in a manger, defended by a sturdy bishop named Nicholas.



  • Debbie

    I appreciate how hard it is to merge Christmas traditions – I grew up with real Christmas tree – my husband with an artificial white one! It is hard to strike the balance between Advent and “secular” Christmas celebrations without going nuts!!!!

  • diana

    I love this mash-up. We’ve already decided against “doing Santa” but this is a good way to explain him all over the place and reconcile what we are doing with what our son hears from other kids.

  • Ashley Crane

    I love this! Any advice for handling kind strangers asking kids if they’re excited for Santa/what Santa’s going to get them/etc. when we’ve been teaching our boys about St. Nicholas?

  • Laura

    HA. Yesterday my six year old asked “Are St. Nick and Santa the same guy?” I said “Kinda” and scooted out of the room. Should have read this first!

  • Karyn

    We don’t bother with Santa Claus but Saint Nicholas is big here. This year he gave them each a movie so that we can build up our Christmas collection. I write St Nicholas letters to them — they start off with congratulating them on something they’re doing well (learning to read or helping with the baby, etc) and then he gives them a suggestion for something to work on (e.g. sharing more with sister). The kids know they’re from me but I think they like them anyhow? We also made St Nicholas cupcakes but I didn’t realize the local parade was going to throw out copious amounts of candy — so the kids are quite hepped up now!

  • Jeanette

    How about this for a little evangelization: Santa is for beginners who don’t know much about Jesus yet. Do you know about Jesus?

    Good way to open up the discussion about the real meaning of Christmas for your kids.

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