Wednesday, November 29, 2006

No More St. Nick

Now here’s news to make one sit and ponder a while. No more St. Nick in the Kindergartens of Austria. He’s too scary for the precious little ones. I have to wonder about that argument. That’s the little corner of the world (if you include Germany) that gave its children Der Struwwelpeter as a means to means to instill good behavior and manners. (I attended a German Kindergarten for a short time. Maybe that’s where things went wrong… I still have a deep appreciation for Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and I don’t mean the Disneyized versions. I’ve introduced them to my students in the translated original. There’s nothing like the stark reality of good versus evil portrayed in a rousing fairly tale told well.)

However, what the memory of St. Nick does is something far different for children. First, it is good to remember the lives of the saints who have gone on before us. They can teach us much of what it means to confess the faith by word and deed. Second, the celebration of St. Nick’s Day makes a distinction between gifts given through the Santa figure and what is given through the Christ Child. To be perfectly clear, though, all Christmas gift-giving would be done on December 6, leaving families free for a proper celebration of Christ’s Birth Mass on Christmas Day. Then the sharpest distinction of the Gifts of the Christ Child, what He gives, and how He comes to us would be made. I’m not certain we’d have any takers on that plan.

At school we celebrate St. Nick’s Day with the children. During the younger students’ nap time he comes and fills their shoes with tangerines and gold coins. We read his story to all the students. We distinguish between Christ’s Gifts of salvation and forgiveness, and His gifts of creation and preservation. Christmas presents are wonderful. God gives parents and even Santa-figures as the means by which He gives gifts to His people. But they are not replacements for the greatest gift of all, His only-begotten Son, who comes only by way of His word, in Baptism, the Absolution and in His Body and Blood of His Holy Supper.