Santa and St. Nick

My honor student/football player son Berto unabashedly asked his teacher before his fifth grade peers how on earth Santa was able to deliver presents in both the northern and southern hemispheres on the same night. From what he described to me later, his teacher fumbled the question and then tried valiantly to recover an appropriate answer. Kudos to her, she must have been completely taken aback that this spike-haired boy still believed, and with such confidence, that he would ask that question in school.

On one hand, it is completely charming that my 11-year-old believes. On the other hand, I wish to tell him the truth about the spirit of St. Nicholas for the purely selfish reason of relieving the pressure on his dad and me.

But then again...the other day I found myself contemplating certain gifts for my children, picturing them by the tree, and I thought, "That would be great! How clever of Santa; he always knows."

I'm one of him, and I believe. The bell still rings for me.

Berto had a debate with his friends about the big guy. They described all the fabulous, most outrageous gifts they'd received - XBoxes, IPads, televisions, computers - and stated that no big man in a reindeer-pulled sleigh had gotten them such treasures. No, parents were the benefactors (or culprits).

Berto said, "Yeah, right! Parents are getting you all those expensive things? They have thousands of dollars? No way!"

As Berto was recounting all this to me, I got a little tense at this point. Santa has never brought any of our kids a game system or high-priced electronic device, so I just had to ask:

"Why do you think Santa has never brought you those things, Berto?"

My son got quiet. My question had not raised this conundrum. It had been bothering him.

"I don't know." A pause and then, "Probably because he knows my little brother and sisters might mess with it...or because our house is small."

Yes, my kids know I don't buy many things, because I feel already the crushing weight of clutter in our home with which I wage a constant, losing battle.

"Well, that true." I had to tread carefully. "It's also not our values, too, right? Mama and Papa don't believe in asking Santa for a ton of expensive things; that's taking advantage, right? You guys get to ask him for three things at most."

"Yeah, but he still brings other kids all this crazy stuff - Wiis and tons of games to go with it, too."

"Well, I think your friends are right..." I took a big breath.

I could feel the energy change in the back seat. Just what was Mama about to say?

"I think some parents must be helping St. Nick out a little."

"By giving him money?"

"No - no! No one ever gives Santa money. No, that wouldn't be in the spirit of things. By adding gifts."


It wasn't correct, but what could I say?

A couple days ago we were listening to the true story of Santa Claus on CD - the one about a certain Bishop, now St. Nicolas, who became famous for helping the poor by secretly leaving gold and other gifts, giving away his whole inheritance. My eyes were watering at the story's end, and Berto said, "They made it sound like he died. And I don't like something they said at the beginning either."

The narrator said that the story was that of the original Santa Claus.

I was mute.

Yes, I want to tell my handsome boy about the generous spirit of St Nick kept alive by parents, church giving trees, the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots and so very much more. I want to tell him that he can be a Santa Claus, too, and honor his patron saint in so many ways, that he has already done so each year when choosing toys for children in struggling families. But, then, he will know...eventually.

I've told my husband I think we should tell him, but my husband responded that he was never told. Even when we went to his parents' house for Christmas the year we married, there were gifts from Santa. Some of my friends say they were never told, either, and they're glad.

Now many adults know the legend sprang from the actions of a boy bishop almost 1700 years ago - helped not a little by mythology and commercial opportunists. Yes, we know.

A little miracle is that somehow, in a small but precious way - even for those of us who eschew extravagance and elves - the child within us still believes.

Three Bears and a Box Full of Toys

Imagine St. Nick (warning: major spoiler)

Short, Mostly Unedited - Christmas


  1. I'm so for - not telling. I have friends who are big the other way and as soon as the child inquires they tell - toothfairy, easter bunny the whole bit. It's such a very short time in life that you get to believe in magic - why hasten it????

    1. Yes, I know you're right, Jamie. I loved my childhood, so I will not be smashing that fragile, tinkling bell for my son.

      Strangely, though, his younger sister struggles with belief. As a teacher told me - one who has had both my eldest in her class - Ana is very sweet and apologizes all over herself for anything she thinks she has done wrong, and her brother Berto won't put up with anything from anybody. Yet, he is the one who believes, and she's skeptical (has been for a couple years). As for me, I have taken a vow of silence; I adore Santa and all his magic - just not the pressure.

  2. Berto has the right to figure it out for himself, I think. In life, some frontiers have to be crossed alone and at the volition of the individual.

  3. My dear sweet sister,
    There may come a day that you have to tell him, or her, or all 4 of them. I tried everything I could about 5 years ago to get Patrick and PJ to ask Santa for something else, but they had their hearts set on an X-box and a Wii, respectively. I explained that I couldn't afford to buy the games for the systems, but Santa apparently has unlimited funds, because they simply told me that Santa would get them games. I tried telling them that Santa couldn't bring 2 such expensive gifts to 1 household. They pointed out that a friend of theirs had gotten both for Christmas from Santa the previous year. I don't remember what else I tried, but in the end, I had to have them both sit on the sofa while I explained a few facts to them. I got down the book about St. Nicholas that I had bought to help Marc make the transition and explained that because St. Nicholas was such an inspiring person, parents the world over have kept his memory alive by getting special gifts for their kids that the children wouldn't expect from their parents (think the bb gun in 'A Christmas Story'). It was hard, and there were tears, but they felt better when I told them that it was a big secret that they could keep from their baby sister, and that they would get to help eat the cookies after their sister went to bed. It's funny how getting to do something so simple as eating cookies with eggnog late at night when their baby sister had to go to bed made them feel better.
    On a side note, said baby sister is now almost 10, and I'm pretty sure that she knows the truth from things that she has said over the past year, but I do believe she's milking it a bit more for the time being. And if I hadn't been so tired a few years ago, I might have thought of the old standby that I use with Danni now: Santa doesn't ever get presents for kids that the parents themselves couldn't afford, because he knows that parents are trying to do their best to provide their children with joy. So while other kids may get an X-box and a Wii all on the same morning, Santa knows that not everyone's parents can afford that, and he doesn't want to outshine mommy and daddy.
    Anyway, best of luck with the kiddos. It breaks my heart when they stop believing, and it really broke my heart to be the one to break it to my 2 younger sons, but they are good strong boys, and managed to get over it pretty quickly. Love you!

    1. Yes, Berto recently told me that he doesn't think money is an issue for Santa - that it doesn't make a difference how expensive something is or isn't to the big guy. I have to agree in theory, but parents suffer the agony while glaring at price tags, and oh, that yearly debate within ourselves!

      Christmas is so much more than toys, gadgets, and Ho Ho Hos.

    2. But wow, Vinca, I think both of your approaches were great; you've given other parents some great food for thought to work with! It is always a great idea, I think, to recruit them to be Santa's helpers (especially in the cookie department).

      And, yes, I know what you mean about hearts breaking. Once you become a parent, you're destined to have your heart broken repeatedly in ever fresh ways. I love you!

  4. I should also point out that some kids are just too darn nosy to not find out. I found out in Carbondale, CO, when I came down the stairs to investigate some strange noises on Christmas Eve. What a shock!

    1. Vinca, you found out everything - haha. I wonder why you have never written detective novels?

  5. Good approach Hillary. Why ruin the magic of childhood? My mom told my sister that Santa only comes to those who truly believe so kids who don't, their parents have to supplement :)

    1. We have already said something similar to Ana. It's a great idea.

  6. Hey Hillary! I love this post and all the great responses. Keep 'em coming. (Camille)


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