Updated December 2022
Yes, Santa is real.
He’s known for his kindness and generosity to those in need. He spreads Christmas cheer to kids around the world. He’s known to be elusive, giving his gifts in secret and leaving before receiving a word of thanks.
But, no, he doesn’t live at the North Pole. And he doesn’t have an appetite for milk and cookies.
He prefers to go by the name of Saint Nicholas. And, yes, he is real.
The true story of Santa Claus begins in the third century in the village of Patara, now in Turkey. Nicholas was born to wealthy parents who raised him to be a devout Christian. From a young age, Nicholas was known for his wisdom and love for God. When he was still young, Nicholas’ parents died. Nicholas used his inheritance to help the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He became a priest and later went on to become the Bishop of Myra while still a young man.
We remember Saint Nicholas and his example of love and charity on December 6th.
One of the most beloved stories of Saint Nicholas tells how he helped three young women in need of a dowry. The father of the sisters gambled their dowry money away, and as is so often the case when we make a big mistake, the father tried to remedy his error by making another bad decision: he would sell his daughters into slavery.
Nicholas saw what was happening to the family and came up with a plan to help correct what went wrong and put the girls back on the right path. Rather than make the family’s situation public and embarrass the father and girls, he came at night and threw a bag of gold coins into the window for the girls’ dowry. (Some stories have the coins landing in a shoe.) Nicholas did not wait for thanks or announce his generosity, but rather gave in secret. It was better for the people he was helping and better for his own soul.
The night before Saint Nicholas Day, my kids lovingly polish and clean their shoes and set them out for Saint Nicholas. We read the story of his life and talk about why he is worth remembering and why he is a hero in the Church. We talk about the qualities of his life that are worth emulating and sing a hymn in his memory.
The next morning, the kids eagerly wake to find chocolate coins and other little treasures in their shoes, an homage to the story of the girls and the dowry. We get dressed extra early for school and head out the door to play a game of “Ding Dong Ditch” around our street. The kids hook a paper basket of coins and a card on neighbors’ doors and run away giggling, taking so much pleasure in this game of giving in secret.
Long after the childhood magic of Christmas fades and the tinkling of Santa’s sleigh bells fall silent, I hope my kids will still find strength and comfort in the life of Saint Nicholas and his example of quiet generosity.
To learn more about Saint Nicholas and how you can incorporate his example of love and generosity in your family Christmas traditions, check out these great resources:
Tending the Garden of our Hearts— St Nicholas This 15-minute podcast is made for families to hear together and gives an excellent review of Saint Nicholas’ life and a kid-friendly reflection on the value of giving in secret.
The Saint Nicholas Center This webpage has everything you could need to start your own traditions: stories, coloring sheets, activities, and more!
A collection of online audiobooks about Saint Nicholas to listen to while you are making Christmas cookies.
If you’re looking for more traditions to include in your holiday plans this year, be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Holiday Activities in and Around Miami.