I get asked two questions from parents this time of year:
So does Santa Claus distract from the “true meaning of Christmas”? Well, that all depends on how you tell the story. When we celebrate the Spirit of the man behind the legend, we celebrate a tradition of being generous with our blessings, caring for the poor in our communities, and loving little children. And that sounds a lot like Jesus to me. So yes, tell your children about Santa Claus, but also tell them about St. Nicholas and how he embodies the Spirit of Jesus and the Christmas season. Teach your children how to be generous and caring and loving, about how Christmas is not about the presents we receive, but about the presents we give.
In talking about St. Nicholas, we also have an answer to the second question. Introduce Santa Claus as the Spirit of St. Nicholas. Use the two names interchangeably when you talk to your children. Remind them of both the legends of St. Nicholas as well as the legends of Santa Claus from The Night Before Christmas poem. As your children get older and begin to understand the abstract concept of Spirits, you can encourage them to give gifts in the Spirit of St. Nicholas just like Santa does. By the time they learn that you are the one signing Santa’s name to the presents, they will understand that you, just like them, are embodying the spirit of Christmas.
Allow there to be magic for your children as long as possible. Magic brings faith and hope to little hearts, just like Jesus brings faith and hope to all of us.