Our little one is deathly afraid of the Santa costumes. Won’t go near them. (Or the Easter Bunny, but that is beside the point.) So our tact was to still keep “the magic” of childhood alive, but also the realistics of history and present times by doing this:
1. We told her that the santas at the mall are just people dressed up in a costume. They are Santa’s helpers. They tell Santa what she wants. But the one she sees is just a guy in an outfit. She assures us that she won’t be scared this year because she knows it is just a guy in a costume. My prediction: she’ll talk the talk, but won’t walk the walk. She’ll back out last minute. We’ll see.
2. We’ve stressed the stories of the real Saint Nicholas. This webpage is GREAT!! We placed him in history and explained that he was a real man and a real priest and a real follower of Christ. We explained how he gave fruit and nuts and food to the poor people, and how he gave his money to the poor, and how his entire life was spent giving worldy goods to those in need. We have her help pick out the apples and oranges and nuts for the stockings and explain why we have that tradition and where it comes from. We also have her choose and help wrap gifts that are only from her. That way, she understands the “giving” part of the holiday, and not only the recieving part. We tie this all in to St. Nicholas.
3. We made cross-over connections between St. Nicholas, Santa, and Christmas, explaining how the real man came to also be a legend. There is a children’s book at the website I linked above that she has memorized. To get to it, click on the For Kids icon, then the Stories and More section. The book is And Now We Call Him Santa Claus. I don’t know why, but I really like the artwork on that one.
4. We ordered free materials frum the Greek Catholic Union about St. Nicholas. (They shipped quickly, and whomever addresses them has beautiful handwriting.) Their “Free for the Asking” page is here.
5. The other day, we were walking through some shops and there was a small area with icons for sale. I asked the little one who was pictured in them, pointing to the icons of Mary and Jesus. She showed no interest in them and was immediately drawn to a smaller one that was partially covered. She was so excited to have found an icon of St. Nicholas. She was right, too.
So I guess our main focus has been to still allow her the wonder of Santa delivering gifts on Christmas morning, but to provide a sound historical understanding of who St. Nick really was. That way, as she grows, she will understand and mature to be able to discern that it was a man who attained legendary status because he lived his life for Christ. It is pretty amazing the hundreds (if not thousands) of stories, legends, miracles, and such that are associated with the real St. Nicholas, so moving from the fantasy to the reality does not mean giving up the awe and wonder.
Of course, providing a strong daily example of living a Christian life (much as St. Nicholas’ parents did) is even more important in helping her to discern where true happiness comes from. The real St. Nicholas is a wonderful portrait for how to live in day-to-day life, and not just when it is in “season.”