We were big on St. Nicholas at my house growing up.
Let me be clear — Santa Claus had some influence over the behavior of my sister and I, but around our home, St. Nicholas was the man.
Every December 5th we would leave our shoes out, and the next day they would be filled with treats like chocolate coins or small toys.
They never had a new bike sticking out of them, but those little gifts reminded us that Christmas was finally on its way.
Twenty-some-odd years later, we’ve been having a related issue with my 3-year-old son, Owen.
St. Nick vs. Santa
He’s finally at that age where Santa Claus’ sleigh is on his radar. And don’t think me too grinchy for admitting this, but I’m wrestling with the idea of stopping this avalanche before it happens and telling him that Santa isn’t real.
I know, I know, I’m a horrible person. Please refrain from dumping your vitriol in the comments section below.
I have to be honest, though, in asking you this question: Isn’t it a little bit healthy for us to consider contradicting the seasonal songs and imagery (not to mention that guy at the mall), and instead focus on introducing my son to a kind, important, historical and Christ-like figure like St. Nicholas?
While I was asking myself this question, I remembered a story I heard from a good friend of mine about the actual St. Nicholas.
At the Council of Nicaea in the year 325, some guy named Arius was going around convincing people that the Word (Jesus) was created, instead of having always been.
Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna did not agree with him. Not at all. And so he laid him out.
St. Nick. Punched a guy. In the face.
So now I have a trickier situation — do we tell Owen about a jolly old elf who may or may not exist, or do we focus our energy on a historical church leader with a mean left hook? At this point, neither option seems perfect.
But maybe we don’t have to choose. If we do, I don’t think we can win. For every story I have about St. Nicholas, Owen hears Bruce Springsteen tell him that Santa Claus is coming to town (and he hears that version of the song a lot, so I’m not helping things).
So, in the end, we probably won’t amp it up too much.
We’ll try to balance a healthy dose of St. Nicholas along with the idea that “Santa Claus” lives in the stories that we tell each other.
Then we can remember to give good things to one another as a reminder that God is the one who gives all good things to us. I can’t wait to see the joy he will get from both giving and getting.
Because his joy is a little gift that reminds me that Christmas is still on its way.
Justin Rimbo lives in Arden Hills, Minn., with his wife, Angie, and their two children. On Sundays you can find Justin leading music for worship at Jacob’s Well in Minneapolis and Humble Walk Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn. Both are ELCA congregations.