My sister Tessa rarely tells me what to do; I’m definitely the bossy one in the relationship. So when she said “You should write this book”, I took note.
We had three small children between the two of us and were both grappling in our own ways with how to handle Santa Claus. We wanted to be open with our kids, but neither of us wanted to get rid of Santa.
I took the route of avoidance, trying to not make a big deal about Santa Claus. I told my son the story of Jesus’s birth, but never tied in the Santa connection. Tessa looked for guidance in books about the origins of Santa Claus, but everything she found was too dry or too long or too fantastical.
“I can’t find what we need to do this well,” she said. “You write it.”
“Fine,” I said. “You illustrate it.”
I can’t speak for Tess, but I don’t remember ever ‘believing in Santa’. I never found out Santa wasn’t real. There was never a conversation in which our parents ‘told us the truth’. Instead, something about how we celebrated Christmas in our home allowed me to hold the character of Santa in an amiable tension with the Christmas story.
When I tiptoed into the living room on Christmas mornings as a girl, some of our gifts under the tree were unwrapped, labeled with red tags in our parents’ handwriting. They didn’t explicitly say ‘from Santa’, but they also didn’t say ‘from Mom and Dad’ (those presents were wrapped in paper and clearly marked). When we gathered around the Christmas tree, we first read the nativity stories from Matthew and Luke and prayed. Then we opened gifts. The biggest, most exciting gifts—the unwrapped gifts—came first.
The message seemed clear to my young self: Mom and Dad wanted to give these special gifts to me without taking credit. Because they loved me. Santa was like code for that wonderful truth. So Santa and Jesus never felt at odds to me.
In writing the book that would become Just Nicholas, my goal was to impart this same experience of Christmas to readers, backing it up and enriching it with historical fact. When I started to research Nicholas of Myra, it became clear that my parents had been on the right track all along. Here was a man who put his relationship with Jesus Christ first. In so doing, his heart was transformed in such a way that made him want to give freely, without credit. I loved that that gospel truth was the true foundation of the character of Santa.
When Just Nicholas was published last year, we were amazed and delighted at the range of feedback we received:
“We don’t want to do Santa in our house and I never knew how to do that without seeming like a humbug. Thank you so much for this book.”
“We still want to have Santa with our kids but we also want them to know the truth. We just weren’t sure how to do that without seeming like hypocrites.”
“My parents insist on talking to my kids about Santa and I’m so excited to have a book that gives us common ground.”
“My grandkids keeping asking me questions about Santa and I never know what to say.”
Wherever people fell on the Santa spectrum, Just Nicholas seemed to fill a void.
The same is true for Tessa and me. We both experienced a new clarity last Christmas that informed our decisions about how to celebrate and how to talk about Santa to our kids, our family, and our friends. Our families also each instituted St Nicholas Day traditions to more fully integrate Nicholas into our advent celebration.
Thank goodness Tessa bossed me into writing Just Nicholas, because nothing compares with pulling out that red book—Nicholas beaming into the snowy night with an overflowing joy—gathering our kids into our laps, and escorting them into the wonder of a sacred and life-changing holiday.