Saint Nicholas lived a life worth remembering. After all, he’s been dead nearly 1,700 years but still makes an appearance every Christmas season.
Traditionally, children have celebrated the feast day of Saint Nicholas by putting their shoes out the night of December 5. In the morning they find a gift in it. Some German-American communities in the midwest still put a chocolate coins in children’s shoes. The coin recalls the gifts that Saint Nicholas, the inspiration for the American Santa Claus, gave to the poor. By remembering the way Saint Nicholas lived his life, parents hope to inspire their children to do the same: Take care of someone else.
When I visited my nephew Henry in Alabama back in 2007, the glitzy, highly commercialized Santa Claus confronted him everywhere. It was impossible to get away from the cardboard cutouts, decorations, and packaging that showed Santa Claus advertising some product. It tortured poor Henry, because he wanted to believe in Santa Claus. He wanted to do what the other kids were doing. What the culture was telling him to do.
I recognize that my boys will be awash in a culture that states we can save our country by spending more and more money on Christmas gifts. However, I hope that an alternative narrative might help them find more meaning in their lives—even if it creates anxiety at first. We plan on helping them understand the differences between the commercialized Santa Claus and the person who cared for the poor, Saint Nicholas. Because caring about someone else just might save our country.
I’m not against Christmas gifts or Christmas decorations. I am for a meaningful life, one that cannot purchased or commoditized. When my boys are older, I hope to make a day of service a part of our Christmas tradition—caring about someone else. So that we, like Saint Nicholas, may live a life worth remembering.