Yes, Virginia, there is a St. Nicholas

grk icon3 wmasterThis isn't really a breaking news story, but it shows up in newspapers from time to time. This is how I started a Scripps Howard News Service column on the topic several years ago:

We see the headlines every two or three years during the holidays. A pastor preaches on the true meaning of Christmas, warning about sins of selfishness and materialism. Then, in a moment of candor, disaster strikes.

This time the dateline was Santa Fe Springs, Calif. Local newspapers, followed by national wire services, reported that Father Ruben Rocha of St. Pius X Catholic School did something shocking during a Mass for students in kindergarten through third grade. He told the children that there is no Santa Claus. The church hierarchy sprang into action.

"There's a time and place for everything, and this was not the time or the place or the age group to be talking about the true meaning of Christmas, at least in terms that young children cannot understand," Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told the media.

Father Rocha apologized in writing to parents. Few details of his sermon are known beyond reports that, in response to a child's question, he said that parents eat the milk and cookies left for Santa.

The Santa question is hard to avoid, this time of year.

Thus, a year ago, Rod "Crunchy Con" Dreher decided to have a Dallas Morning News showdown between the pro- and antii-Santa worldviews, with me taking the anti-Santa side of things (but pro-St. Nicholas of Myra) and the Catholic writer Erin Manning voting in favor of telling children all about the big man in the red suit. Rod's a pro-Santa guy, too, the heretic.

Anyway, Rod decided to start a new online thread on the same topic the other day. Here's a sample of what I had to say:

Here is the key question: Does saying "yes" to St. Nicholas automatically mean saying "no" to Santa Claus? Even before we converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, my wife and I had made the decision that -- in our house -- the answer would be affirmative. The reason was simple: We didn't want to say things to our children that we do not believe are true.

In other words, we believe that the whole season of Nativity Lent and Christmas belong, first and foremost, to the church. That's an issue -- as the Orthodox would say -- of Christian Tradition with a "big T."

coke santa360While Erin responded, in part, by arguing:

Are we lying to our children, with our ancient stories and cherished poems of a kindly saint who loves all children and hears their whispered wishes and dreams? Not at all -- we are telling them the truth. It's just that some truths can't be found in scholarly lectures or discovered in dry books of facts.

When we teach our wide-eyed little ones the legend of St. Nicholas, we are teaching them essential lessons about faith, hope and unconditional love. When we sit by glowing embers to share with them our December stories, we instruct them in such virtues as generosity, patience and the sort of kindness that expects no reward. And they are able to learn these things from us because for a few short weeks every year, we find it possible to enter the world of make-believe.

So, what do you think, gentle GetReligion readers?

The key, for me, is whether Christmas is a holy season or not. This is one of those cases in which it really is hard to see the forest for the trees. Viewed from an historical perspective, there really is a giant news story out there right now in the public square.

The story can be stated in a question: When is Christmas? I put it this way, in a Christmas-season column the other day for Scripps. Except, it really wasn't a Christmas-season column. That was the whole point.

Here's the bottom line. For centuries, Christmas was a 12-day season that began on Dec. 25th and ended on Jan. 6th with the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. Thus, the season of Christmas followed Christmas Day, with most people preparing for the holy day in a festive blitz during the final days or even hours, with many stores staying open until midnight on Christmas Eve.

Today, everything has been flipped around, with the Christmas or Holiday season preceding Dec. 25.

So is Christmas about to begin or is it about to end? What's happening (a) in your local media (click for the classic) and (b) in, for those of you who are Christians, your churches?

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