In our (very international) house St. Nicholas arrives in the early hours of the 6th of December and puts chocolates and fruit in the neatly-polished shoes of the good children, while the naughty children get charcoals and sticks. If the shoes aren’t polished and tidy, he may not leave anything, so it’s a good strategy to get children to confront the scuff marks on their school shoes at least once a year.
This is the Central and East European heritage in our family. Since we have a number of Christmas traditions to choose from, we do a real pick and mix, to the utter enjoyment of the children and complete exhaustion of the parents. In addition to St. Nicholas on the 6th of December, we put up our tree on Christmas Eve and get a visit from Santa during the night of the 24th of December, find a figure in our galette on the 5th of January and have to take down the decorations by the 6th of January, when the Three Kings finally make their appearance. We have renounced the Austrian Christkind on the evening of the 24th for obvious going to bed reasons, and the Greek Agios Vassilis on the 1st of January, but only because it coincides with a family birthday.
Normally this works well, although we do get the occasional protest that everyone else seems to have their tree up and outside lights on for weeks before us. On the whole, the children enjoy having more than one set of celebrations to look forward to. This year, however, my elder son (the one who is getting suspicious of Santa’s ability to be in multiple places simultaneously) conducted a survey among his school friends and discovered no one else had received treats in their boots from St. Nicholas. ‘Not even Jack, Mummy, and he is a really good boy.’
So how to explain? Surely I couldn’t get away with saying that all British children had unpolished boots? I tried to suggest that St. Nicholas only checks up on Continental European children to make sure they are behaving and then hands over the list to Santa, while Santa deals with the British children directly. (Amazing what proficient liers we become just to boost the reputation of a bearded fellow dressed in red, whom we would nowadays ban from playgrounds if he started handing out sweets to our children!)
‘But that’s not FAIR! That’s not very nice of St. Nicholas at all, to ignore children here in Britain…’ Apparently, having to deal with Santa directly, without the benefit of a mediator, is not a bonus, but a raw deal.
So there we have it, St. Nicholas is a racist, Santa is a scary, excessive multi-tasker and why can’t we write Christmas cards for our friends Indu, Aman, Raja, Fatima, Karim…?
How do you explain different Christmas customs to children without destroying the magic of Santa? Or the fact that some children do not celebrate Christmas at all? Or should we just forget the whole ‘naughty and nice’ thing?