We do a kind of liturgical/secular mash-up in this house come Advent, both in reverence for the all-but-invisible-in-America season in the Church year and in concession to, well, the same thing.
We can’t shield our children from the life-sized Santa Claus and Nativity displays at Costco come October, and, frankly, why would we want to? I’m glad there’s something meaningful to distract them while I’m frantically shoveling bulk meat products and cases of black beans into my double wide cart.
But where does that leave Advent?
My husband was raised in a more, shall we say, liturgically rigorous environment, and so it was not uncommon for a tree to be procured as late as Christmas Eve itself. My side of the tracks? We bust out both fake trees the first or second week of November and the halls are fully decked by the time the Thanksgiving turkey is on the table.
So we’ve had to compromise, coming together to create a meaningful and realistic celebration of this most joyous time of year, respecting the austerity and recollection of Advent while at the same time acknowledging that we live in 21st century America, and our kids are going to hear Silent Night once or 233 times between now and December 25th.
Enter St. Nicholas.
He’s the perfect vehicle to bridge the gap between the secular and the religious, and he’s a pretty cool saint in his own right, too. Whether you identify more with the tenderhearted bishop who paid off the dowry for a young family of sisters, saving them from sexual slavery, or the righteous zealot who punched a heretic in the face while defending the divinity of Christ, there really is something for everyone.
Plus, the guy is everywhere come November.
We use St. Nicholas and Santa Claus interchangeably, and it works out great. All over town, all over Target, and all over TV there are images of the jolly saint in red, helping to remind us to prepare our hearts for the great mystery of the Incarnation: the Nativity of Jesus.
On the evening of December 5th, our kids place letters they’ve written to St. Nicholas in their shoes, arranged under the Christmas tree. The letters are a truly bizarre mashup of prayer requests, toy lists, and messages of gratitude for the blessings of the past year. But on the morning of December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas, our kids find that St. Nicholas has retrieved his letters in the night and left shoes full of chocolate coins to remind them how sweet it is to prepare our hearts and home for the coming of baby Jesus.
Simple, meaningful, and an easy translation to connect Santa Claus to Jesus Christ. And it saves the trip to the post office to send letters off to the North Pole.
May your Advent season be marked by childlike wonder, and may your hearts be opened to the miraculous reality of Jesus Christ made man, lying in a manger, defended by a sturdy bishop named Nicholas.