I personally see nothing wrong with saying Happy Holidays to people as we tend to celebrate a “holiday season” starting with Thanksgiving. And the argument about Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas alternately amuses and irritates me.
But this post isn’t about words, it’s about actions. My husband recently got into an argument with someone about the fact that our family doesn’t “do” Santa Claus. My kids know who Santa is but know he is not real. They also know about the real St Nicholas. And we celebrate his feast day. The argument this person was making with Jeff was that Santa was part of the “magic” of Christmas and was fun for children. Jeff mentioned to this person that some children did not get gifts on Christmas from Santa or anyone else, so how do we explain to our children that injustice if we are allowing them to believe in Santa? Are all poor children “bad” children? Is that why Santa “skips” their homes?
But what weighed most heavily in my mind when Jeff recounted this argument to me was “Where is Christ in all of this?” We have many friends and even some family members for whom Christmas is a time to give and receive gifts and eat a big meal and nothing more. AND NOTHING MORE. Christmas has ceased to be about the birth of Christ and more about secular traditions and activities we have attached to it. And people have no idea how some of our traditions are related to the actual birth of Christ.
Where does the tradition of giving and receiving presents originate? It originates from the Wise Men, Kings or Magi, if you will, and the gifts they brought the newborn King, the baby Jesus. In our home, as it was in my home growing up, we are instituting the 3 gift policy. As the baby Jesus only got 3 gifts, so will our children. When Christmas becomes about how much we spent on the biggest toy or how many toys a child gets to open, we can lose the origin of the tradition easily. And we allow this one tradition to overwhelm this holy day. Last year, someone we know’s child spent 2 hours opening presents while the parents, an uncle, and all his grandparents watched. And those were just the presents from “Santa” and Mom and Dad.
Where does the tradition of the stockings come from? It comes from St Nicholas and a story attributed to him. When St Nicholas was bishop, it was rumored that he often dropped gold or money down the chimney’s of families in need. That money would often drop into socks drying over the fire, “stockings.” Traditionally in Eastern Europe, children received nuts and fruits in their shoes or “stockings.” And typically on December 6th. The feast of St Nicholas, not Christmas Day. The moving of this tradition to Christmas Day is primarily a North American tradition.
The tradition of Santa Claus is based upon the real St Nicholas and the jolly elf dressed in red is primarily an American creation started in the 19th century. The Saint Nicholas Center is a wonderful resource for families looking to celebrate this wonderful man and the patron of children. It also includes a detailed history of how we came from St Nicholas to our modern-day Santa Claus.
We can certainly celebrate traditions such as gift giving and stockings and more without losing the birth of Christ in the mix. What is most important is that we put Christ’s birth front and center of the day. We should not be allowing anything to overshadow that. We should use our traditions to teach our children about our faith and the history that is behind them.
The people who are taking Christ out of Christmas are certainly not necessarily those saying “Happy Holidays,” it is those who treat Christmas as any other secular holiday by not acknowledging the birth of Christ in their actions.