Yes, Advent technically began on Sunday, a fact that I was today years old when I learned, but for all intents and purposes, if you have kids with Advent calendars, Advent begins today, December 1 (the Nativity fast, however, began on November 15, i.e., 40 days out from Christmas).
It’s a special time of year, with or without kids, as we prepare to commemorate the coming of the Lord. But with kids, I’ve found that my appreciation for Christmas beyond the purely religious and theological aspect has deepend. There’s nothing more fun than seeing little ones’ faces light up with wonder at the decorations and lights, the fireplace, the food, and the promise of fun gifts to give and to receive.
It’s equally interesting with an eight-year-old who was smart enough to suss out earlier this year that the Tooth Fairy is not real. He’s already made comments that, perhaps, Santa Clause isn’t real, and has a sneaking suspicion that my wife and I are the ones who move the Elf on the Shelf–another thing that starts on the first of December–around.
But here’s the thing: I think he knows, but he enjoys it too much to fully tell my wife and I that he’s in on it. It’s a fun magic that gets lost when you grow from being a little kid to a big kid. Christmas feels a bit different afterwards, still fun but less magical. Maybe that’s one of the negative aspects about the whole “Santa Claus and his magic reindeer come down everyone’s chimneys and deliver presents to all the children around the world” myth: If that was a lie, what else is a lie?
I think about this a lot. But the funny thing is, when you have children of your own, Christmas becomes magical again. For example, Santa Claus is real. Nicholas is a real saint. Did you know that the real St. Nicholas punched the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicaea (the very first Ecumenical Council) in 325? Did you also know the origin of St. Nicholas as a secret gift-giver? It’s realy cool:
Greek Orthodox tradition tells of Saint Nicholas being born around AD 280, the only child of a wealthy, elderly couple who lived in Patara, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey).
When his parents died in a plague, Nicholas inherited their wealth.
Nicholas generously gave to the poor, but he did so anonymously, as he wanted the glory to go to God.
About this time, in the 3rd century, the pietist-monastic movement spread, where sincere converts to Christianity would give away all their money and possessions, then withdraw from the world to live in a cave as a hermit or join a monastery.
One notable incident that occurred during this time in Nicholas’ life was when a merchant in his town had gone bankrupt.
The creditors threatened to take not only his house and property, but also his children.
The merchant had three daughters.
He knew if they were taken it would probably condemn them to tragic lives of forced marriages, sex-trafficking, or prostitution.
The merchant had the idea of quickly marrying his daughters off so the creditors could not take them.
Unfortunately, he did not have money for a dowry, which was needed in that area of the world for a legally recognized wedding.
Nicholas heard of the merchant’s dilemma and, late one night, threw a bag of money in the window for the oldest daughter’s dowry.
Supposedly the bag of money landed in a shoe or a stocking that was drying by the fireplace.
It was the talk of the town when the first daughter was able to get married.
Nicholas then threw a bag of money in the window for the second daughter, and she was able to get married.
Expecting money for his third daughter, the merchant waited up.
When Nicholas threw the money in, the father ran outside and caught him.
Nicholas made the father promise not to tell where the money came from, as he wanted the credit to go to God alone.
This was the origin of secret, midnight gift-giving and hanging stockings by the fireplace on the anniversary of Saint Nicholas’ death, which was December 6, 343 AD.
The three bags of money which Nicholas threw into the house are remembered by the three gold balls hung outside of pawnbroker shops — as they present themselves as rescuing families in their time of financial need.
As a result, Nicholas became considered the “patron saint” of pawnbrokers.
I went from finding Christmas to be just all right in my twenties to absolutely loving it in my thirties (and very soon–my forties). It’s so much fun reliving the magic through my kids. It’s a healthy kind of vicarious living. Instead of using our children as a proxy for fulfilling all of the dreams and desires we were unable to in our own youths, we can relive our own childhood innocence and wonder as we watch our children experience the joy of Christmas. We get to share it with them.
That, truly, is a blessing. It’s like getting to live again, a second crack at childhood. One can only imagine how grandparents and great-grandparents feel about this.
It’s cliche, but it’s good to remember the reason for the season. St. Nicholas got so fired up about the Arian heresy, and apocryphally about saving the merchant’s daughters from a horrible fate, because of Jesus Christ and the love He showed the world.
I don’t want to get preachy so I’ll stop here. I’ll leave it that I hope all of you have a blessed and most holy Christsmas season, no matter your religion (if any). Enjoy the holiday, and even if you feel like you’re just going through the motions, maybe some of the magic will rub off on you.