Thursday, December 16, 2010

We need St. Nicholas

I couldn't agree more with this excellent article by Katie Walker--and many thanks to the reader who sent it to me! Walker tackles the "Santa is a lie" motif far more ably than I have:

To us, Santa is a type of John the Baptist, announcing the coming of the Messiah. With the angels, his magical Christmas eve flight sings “Glory to God in the highest!” He’s a holy man in love with Our Lord and filled with the magic and mystery of the Nativity – a mystery a thousand times more fantastic than an old man who makes toys at the North Pole and delivers them around the world.

Santa Claus has a treasured place in the hearts and imaginations of the Walker children.

So imagine how … passionate shall we say … I was when I recently found myself defending Santa Claus to one of my more traditional Catholic friends. He didn’t like the idea of “lying” to children. Santa distracts from Christ he said, and he just couldn’t square him with his strict interpretation of St. Thomas.

But as Catholics engaged in this battle to restore our dying culture, as pro-lifers seeking to reaffirm the dignity and infinite value of this mysterious thing we call human life, I say we desperately need Santa Claus - the ambassador from fairyland.

In old-fashioned gratitude, we owe St. Nicholas a bit more than simply brushing him off as a superstitious lie to children or as a materialistic construct of our stuff-obsessed culture.

In this age of skepticism, scientism and string theory, we need Santa Claus more than ever. We need childlike faith and wonder on at least one magical, cold morning. [...]

In abandoning fairyland we’ve abandoned sanity and we’ve largely abandoned God.

But for one day every year the silvery wonder of Christmas is shunned only by the most hardened atheists – poor creatures.

On that one morning, the hardened hearts of many melt and the elfin ambassador rides in with glorious news of the Messiah’s birth.

Santa Claus is real. He lived and still lives as our brother in Christ, and anyone who tells a child otherwise is guilty of a grave injustice and an offense against truth.

For one day at least out of 365, there is a crack in our cultural armor of skepticism and for that one day, this culture that has abandoned God and defiantly says to Him, “I will not believe” admits that it wants to believe.

Do go and read the whole thing here, if you can.

We live in a world in which five-year-olds stop wanting to be fairy princesses and start worrying about whether they're "hot" enough to attract boys. We live in a world in which those same five-year-olds may already have begun receiving sex education in public schools (depending on where you live). We live in a world which constantly pushes children to abandon childhood in favor of adulthood, which tries to sell children on adult clothing styles, technologies, entertainment choices, and the like. We live in a world in which the greatest pressure on children to stop acting like children and pretend to be miniature grown-ups comes from their own peers, who mercilessly ridicule any child who clings to childish pretend play or childlike behaviors--at ages when children really should be children. In his Apologia por Vita Sua, John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote of his early religious thoughts that one which remained prominent enough to record was his having read the Arabian Nights and wishing they were true; we live in an age that laughs at fairy stories and cynically remakes them to reflect the skepticism and pragmatism of our culture. And the children hear our laughter, and are embarrassed at having wished to be a prince or princess or to fight dragons or fall magically and permanently in love--because that last, too, seems like a lie to children who grow up so horribly aware of broken homes and shattered families.

We need more magic in our lives, not less. We need more joyful pretending, not more empiricism. We need a little Christmas--and we need St. Nicholas to be a part of it.


Gina said...

Thank you for another wonderful post I've read recently in defense of Santa Claus. Regardless of my many shortcomings as a parent, I never want my daughter to lose her sense of wonder and enchantment with make-believe and things unseen. And many of God's many wonders are "unseen".

Anonymous said...

Auntie Mame puts it brilliantly:

"...we need a little Christmas, right this very minute..."

It seems more and more we've determined being reverent requires being makes me want to drink fourteen peppermint mocha lattes and write a letter to Santa. Cheer up, people, it ain't that hard.

freddy said...

Yes, *yes*, YES!
When I those old Scrooges and Grinches decrying St. Nicholas, I remind them that I'm a Catholic, not a Puritan, and I believe in Saints and miracles and mystery and childhood. And I kindly invite them to leave their creeping Puritanism locked in an ugly-but-useful trunk in their attic, where it belongs!

Deirdre Mundy said...

We try to do Santa/Saint Nicholas. But apparently, we don't do him WELL, because my 7 year old keeps saying things like "Why write him letters? If he's a saint, can't we just pray? Well, if he's a saint that explains why I never got a pony!" (because a saint won't bring her something that would ultimately be ABD for her.) And, most disturbing and hard, "If he's a saint, he's dead. He doesn't have a body until the second coming. So why does he need milk and cookies?" Right now we're taking the "Well, Jesus lets him do all these things because he wants little kids to have fun on his birthday b/c Jesus loves the Little Children and Saint Nicholas does TOO!" approach. Any better ideas? She's only SEVEN.

Rebecca in CA said...

Making-believe about St. Nick coming down the chimney at Christmas is fun, but I would like to go back to your discussion of trick-or-treating at Halloween. Trick-or-treating is fun and a lot of people like to do it, but it certainly isn't morally obligatory to do it or not to do it. And here, I say too, Santa coming down the chimney at Christmas is a relatively new invention, and it's fine, but I just don't see that I'm robbing my children of magic if I don't do the Santa thing. Christmas was always a beautiful and magical time to me growing up, and I could sing carols all year round, but Santa wasn't a necessary ingredient there for me and I don't feel strongly about needing to present the myth to my own children, either.

Dierdre, my own children esp. my oldest are pretty literal and interested in what's really true from early ages, as I was also as a child. I think if they're asking questions like that it is time to be straightforward. That's just my opinion. My parents loved to pretend, to kid, and to play, but when I really sat them down and asked them to tell me the truth, they always did, and I think that is part of respect towards any other human being.

julie b said...

Yes - I say it again - Yes! So glad to read all of this and feel reaffirmed in my desire to enjoy fairy tales and pass on to my kids the wonderful times I had in regards to the Santa of my youth.
My stocking is still hung by the fireplace!

Anonymous said...

I think you overstate or mischaracterize many aspects of our culture, Erin. You are too quick to clutch the pearls. Very little of what is going wrong now has not gone wrong before. We just didn't have a 24 hour news cycle to tell us about it, or government agencies collecting the data to let us know how bad it is.

The popularity of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, computer and video games based on fantasy worlds as well as a resurgence of interest in board games tells me that the world of innocence and imagination is not dying.

My 23 year old plays games in which talking animals battle criminals, or are the criminals, or start farms. Several completely separate social groups he is part of play board games regularly. These are college and grad-school educated young people.

No one would be fighting Santa if he didn't have such a deep hold on much of the culture. I made no attempt to teach my son about Santa but he absorbed it my osmosis and we had to give in and leave cocoa and cookies out on Christmas Eve for many years.

I wonder why people let nay-sayers get under their skin so much.

That said, Merry Christmas, everyone!


Anonymous said...

I've come to not despise Santa but I'm very far from "needing" him.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I wholeheartedly agree that we need more magic, more joyful pretending, more wonder and glory...

...and I'm not anxious to stomp on people finding a bit of that in Santa Claus. But there are reasons I do not buy or send Santa-Claus themed Christmas cards or wrapping paper.

Santa Claus is, in part, a variation on the Dutch "Sinter Klaas," who is, as you mention, St. Nicholas. But the full blown Santa Claus was introduced as a harbinger of the empiricization and commercialization of Christmas, not as its antidote.

Well, so what. If the kids are fascinated, so be it.