Traditions are simultaneously communal and personal. They are good for our physical, spiritual, and mental health. And during the holiday season they connect us to past generations, affirm our charitable values, and remind us that we are here to bring peace, joy, and love to others.
I was forced to think about one of my favorite holiday traditions when a stranger recently asked for my advice. “Do you think children should believe in Santa Claus?” It was a question I didn’t expect to be asked after ordering pancakes at one of my favorite restaurants. Our server, a young father, had been contemplating what he should tell his 3-year old daughter after she begged her mother to visit Santa at the mall. He wanted to tell her Santa doesn’t exist. His wife, on the other hand, thought it was okay for her to believe in Santa Claus.
Before I really processed the complexity of the question, I responded quickly and with enthusiasm, “of course its okay for her to believe.” I admit, not the most thoughtful response. But my emotional memory had overpowered my brain. You see my fondest holiday memories are of the hours after we took the Christmas tree out of storage and assembled it in the den. I’d play the Lou Rawls Christmas album and dance around the tree to his rendition of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. For me, that signaled the beginning of the holiday season, a time of merriment and magic.
During those weeks I believed anything was possible, that dreams could come true, and that goodness would be rewarded. And while my parents always stressed the story of Christ as the reason our family celebrated the season, we simultaneously heard the story of St. Nicholas, the saint from the 4th century, whose life is celebrated by a diversity of cultures around the world as the “giver of gifts.” In that spirit, my parents went to great lengths to hide our presents every year until Christmas morning, when we would wake up to a room full of gifts presumably delivered by “Jolly Old St. Nicholas."
I mentioned the conversation to Dr. Tomas Morales over lunch one day. He shared with me that he has a good friend who collects Santa Claus figurines from around the world, causing me to think about St. Nicholas as an ubiquitous metaphor that continues to inspire compassion and charity and promote the spirit of generosity. This time of year should give us hope and serve as a reminder that goodness will eventually be rewarded, and no matter how bleak things appear, we have been blessed abundantly and must share those blessings with others.