When I was in elementary school my family lived in Germany. Even though I attended an English-speaking Department of Defense school on an Army base, all students were required to take Host Nation, a course led by a German woman who taught us all about the country’s traditions, holidays, and history. We also learned basic German – enough to order from menus, to ask how much something cost in a store, and how to find the bathroom. We lived on base for only a short while, until my parents found a rental house in the German town. We became immersed in culture, riding our bikes back and forth to base, going to German shops, and swimming at the city pool. The best memories, however, were from the Christmas holidays.
St. Nicholas Day is a big deal in Europe. Children leave their shoes outside the front door so St. Nicholas can fill them with little trinkets and coins. He’s the centerpiece of every town parade and festival, dressed as Father Christmas the religious figure, not like Santa who slips down your chimney.
Like every other religious holiday, we’ve done well to commercialize it. St. Nicholas is why we hang stockings on the fireplace, after all. But originally, St. Nicholas was a compassionate bishop who cared for the “least of these,” particularly children. It is his goodness and generosity that we celebrate.
Since I put my shoes on the front porch for St. Nicholas when I was a kid, I decided to make that a tradition with my boys. They put their shoes outside last night and paced the living room this morning until I finally gave them the okay. The each received a few chocolates and a little toy. Then our advent lesson was on generosity.
I wouldn’t say that I’m anti-Santa Claus, because I’m not. I’m just pro-St. Nicholas. I just like having the historical reference to lay as a foundation next to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. I like that we can marry Christmas traditions together instead of picking sides.