Yesterday morning the boys woke up to find surprises in their shoes and boots, the same pairs lined up the night before next to their bedroom doors. St. Nicholas had come, just as we thought he might. There was no snow on the ground, though it had rained heavily into the wee hours and the world outside was washed and wet. My youngest son remarked, “Mom did you know that Santa comes sometimes even if it is not snowing?”
We talked this idea over, and to be sure, if snow was a requirement for Santa or St. Nicholas’s arrival, they would never make it here. All three of my kids are now old enough to have ideas and questions of their own about Santa and his relationship to St. Nicholas, how they travel and do their work and make public appearances, and how does baby Jesus being born fit with all the rest. My oldest son was trying to understand the Christmas story himself, when last year or the year before he asked, “Who were Jesus’s parents, really?” as we read the story of the boy Jesus at the Temple calling himself the “Son of God,” while at the same time Mary and Joseph searched frantically for their child.
Something about the modest celebration of St. Nicholas Day yesterday, and the simple delight the kids found in their discovered coins, chocolate, candies, and oranges did my heart good.
Someday maybe I’ll tell them the story of when our house was new and for the first time we had oranges ripening on our very own tree, and it happened to be pouring with rain on the Eve of St. Nicholas Day. It also happened that someone in close cahoots with St. Nicholas was searching for ripe oranges with a flashlight as the clock ticked toward 11:00, in the rain in her pajamas (does that sound familiar?). Someday I’ll remind them too that the Tooth Fairy and a Christmas Elf visited our house all in the same week, making special nighttime deliveries, even when somebody overslept. Someday.
The story of a baby born in the starlit night, and the gift of life, and simple gifts given with great love, these things led St. Nicholas to give gifts of his own to the poor and needy, and to children. We adorn our houses, we light lights, we count the days as we wait and remember, we sing and make music, and we try to give gifts of love.
Christmas can be complicated, but does it have to be?