Santa and Saint Nicholas

Sample talk for adults while children are engaged in party activities; from Open Doors by LeaderResources

St Nick
© St. Nicholas Center

Good Afternoon. Welcome to _______'s Church. My name is ____ and I'm the (priest) at (church). Thank you for bringing your children to join us for this St. Nicholas Day Party. Christmas is a time of the year when things can get very hectic. So we try to spread it out over a longer period of time instead of trying to pack it all into a couple of days. One way we do that is to celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6th and we'll also have an Epiphany Party on January 6th and we hope you'll join us again. St. Nicholas Day is widely celebrated in Europe but less known here in America. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops collect money for the poor (and sometimes themselves!). In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrives on a steamship from Spain and rides a white horse around the country giving out gifts. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. This simple gift-giving early in the season of Advent (and before the major Christmas rush), helps keep Christmas Day focused on the birth of the Christ Child. But who was St. Nicholas? "The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

"Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals-murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, , December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar). "Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.

"One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value-a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

"One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas' feast day approached, Basilios' mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home-with quiet prayers for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king's golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children-which became his primary role in the West." 1

So why do we focus on St. Nicholas? Well, first of all, we like people know the story of the real saint behind the Santa Claus story. It is a story that inspires us even today. And adopting some of these traditions helps families "spread out" Christmas joy instead of focusing it all on one day and on what sometimes becomes too much for children. The focus on getting lots and lots of toys can be overwhelming for children and sometimes overwhelms parental pocketbooks! So some families find the St. Nicholas traditions of smaller gifts and treats a helpful and meaningful way to lower the pressure on Christmas Day.

Finally, we offer this to you as a way to deal with that sticky question of: When, where and how do you answer your child's questions about Santa Claus? Most of the time this happens naturally and you, as the parent, are relieved of having to do anything! But in some families this causes no small amount of consternation. And understanding Saint Nicholas can relieve pressure to pretend, especially after the child has figured it all out.

Learning about St. Nicholas helps children understand how stories, like the Santa Claus story, come to be over time. And it gives you an easy way to begin talking about how St. Nicholas was a real bishop who gave gifts. Over time, people began to call him Santa Claus and thought of more and more ways that he did or could have given gifts. We remember St. Nicholas because he cared for children, the poor and those in need. We remember him as Santa Claus because he gave gifts. And we give each other gifts as a way to remember and celebrate his example of caring for others.

This gives you an honest answer if your child asks whether Santa Claus is real. "Santa Claus is another name for St. Nicholas and he was a bishop who lived a long time ago. He cared for people, especially children, and gave them gifts."

Did Santa Claus bring my presents? "Santa Claus, who was the bishop named St. Nicholas, inspires all of us to give gifts to each other to show our love for each other and for those in need. We give gifts at Christmas to celebrate God's gift of the baby Jesus, given to us at Christmas."

You'll have to decide how you handle this with your own child. But we hope that having the St. Nicholas story will give you a way to help you talk with your child about Santa Claus. And it may give you an alternative should you decide you don't want the focus on Santa Claus.

Let me pause and ask if anyone has questions or has anyone got a story about how you handled the question of Santa Claus. Is this an issue in your house and how do you handle it?

Field questions and comments. Listen. Encourage dialogue. Affirm the fact that different families have different traditions—and that's fine.

We have a Christmas pageant at ___ o'clock on Christmas Eve—any child is welcome to join in or watch. No rehearsal required; just show up. And there's that Epiphany party I mentioned. As you leave someone will give you a schedule of those events. We hope you'll come and bring some friends with you! We also have a brochure on the benefits of bringing your child to church. You might find some of those reasons interesting or even surprising. If you do not belong to a church, I urge you to consider providing your child with a religious education. Your children will come to know Jesus as a friend. They will learn right from wrong and values that are important to all of us: loving and caring for others, kindness, compassion, and why and how to stand up for what's right. They will learn that God loves them and that God will be with them in the time of trouble and well as the good times. These are difficult days and all of us, especially our children, need God in our lives.

Thanks again for coming. Please join us for refreshments in (directions to the room).

Introduction to Open Doors
Seasonal Background
Invitation Team Guide
Communications Team: Sample newsletter & bulletin announcement, press release & poster
Event Team Planning Guide
Hospitality Team Recipes & name tags
Parent/adult Talk

1. St. Nicholas Center, "Who is St. Nicholas?"

Open Doors from LeaderResources. A comprehensive approach to assist a church in being inviting and welcoming, particularly to families. Guides for all aspects of event preparation.

Purchase from LeaderResources. Available for download as PDFs or editable, with full reproducible rights for the original purchaser.

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