December is a confusing time for multicultural children, especially those living in a third culture… even if all the cultures one is trying to assimilate are Christianity-based. Across Europe Santa Claus appears at different times and it varies when and how Christmas is celebrated and who the gifts come from. It is truly fascinating!
But how on Earth do you help your children believe in your version of the myth, when they hear so many different variations to it?
Our own Santa Claus, Sinterklaas and Mikulás traditions
Being Dutch and Hungarian we both bring strong traditions to this time of year: Both in Hungary and The Netherlands we celebrate Saint Nicholas Day* (the patron saint of children), just slightly differently. The Dutch have Zwaarte Pete (a liberated Ethopian slave boy, according to the legend) assisting Sinterklaas, in Hungary Krampusz (a devil like creature) sits by Mikulás’ side as a warning to naughty children.
The Dutch have very strong mythology around how Sinterklaas arrives, which fascinates children. In my Oh-so-lovely-Daddy’s family Sinterklaas was always a bigger deal than Christmas itself. Children got most of their gifts on this day. Whereas in Hungary kids polish their boots and get chocolates, sweets, some exotic fruits, maybe some small nick-nacks … and the, occasionally, naughty ones a virgacs (a bunch of gold coloured branches); the big presents come at Christmas.
Living in the United Kingdom, our children are confused- how does Santa Claus come on Christmas, but also on Saint Nicolas Day?
So I have created our own Saint Nicolas and Christmas myth
“Saint Nicolas is very busy this time of year, so to some children he comes at the beginning of December, some he only gets to for Christmas …and he comes even later to other children.” (referring to Djed Mraz, the Russian Santa Claus arriving on New Year’s Day).
You can just hear Little Miss asking- “So how do the presents get under our Christmas tree?”
“At Christmas our presents arrive with the Baby Jesus. It is miraculous, just like his birth!” (The tradition in our family is to go to Mass, sit down for dinner and then check whether there are any gifts under the tree)
They are very happy with this myth we have created! It makes sense to them.
It also gives space for “Santa Claus doesn’t come to all children” scenario: Some because they are so poor and he cannot get to them, some because they are too far away.
My hope is with this we help to create a magic around this time of year and keep the excitement going for many years to come. Also, hopefully, this avoids conflicts with those celebrating this season differently and my children will not be drawn into arguments, not let their beliefs be shattered by others with different traditions, but rise above them with tolerance, saying “yes and we do it differently!”
Even between families there are differences in celebrating holidays- How do you reconcile them? Do you merge the traditions? Do you take one over the other?
“Originally, the Sinterklaas feast celebrates the name day, 6 December, of the Saint Nicholas (280–342), patron saint of children. Saint Nicholas was a Greek bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari. Bari later formed part of the Spanish Kingdom of Naples, because it was previously conquered in 1442 by Alfonso V of Aragon. The city thus became part of the Kingdom of Aragon and later to Spain, until the eighteenth century. Due to the fact that the remains of St. Nicholas were in Bari (then a Spanish city), is this tradition that St. Nicholas comes from Spain. His helper is black because at the time Spain was part of the Moor empire. St. Nicholas is well known in Spain as the patron of sailors. That’s why St. Nicholas comes to the Netherlands in a steamboat. St. Nicholas fame spread throughout Europe. The Western Catholic Church made his name day a Church holiday. In the north of France, he became the patron saint of school children, then mostly in church schools. The folk feast arose during the Middle Ages. In early traditions, students elected one of them as “bishop” on St. Nicholas Day, who would rule until December 28 (Innocents Day). They sometimes acted out events from the bishop’s life. As the festival moved to city streets, it became more lively” Wikipedia