If you've been around us, you know that we don't celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus and all those trimmings. Today is our day. Kind of.
Today we observe the celebration of St. Nicholas: the real saint whose image and life lent itself to forming some of the modern day Santa Claus image. St. Nicholas grew up in a wealthy family in Greece in the late third century. His parents died when he was young, but he continued with his pious upbringing. He is said to have given away much of his wealth (including a story of leaving gold coins for three young, impoverished virgins whose family had no money for their dowries; in one version the coins are dropped down a chimney, in another they are placed in the ladies' hanging, drying stockings).
So we observe the day by talking about his life, trying to find ways to give to others, and giving a family present that will provide time together. My wife flies out of town in the morning, so we enjoyed an evening home together making pizza for supper and mixing up some gingerbread to pass on later (plus, the temperatures were dipping into negative temperatures, so we decided to skip Holidaze on 44th, a nearby neighborhood mile-long festival of hayrides, ice carving, hot cocoa, and other fun activities). The gift was a new board game which we played together.
Yesterday my wife took the boys shopping to finish purchasing a few more objects for the shoe boxes we send overseas through Operation Christmas Child. It's our way of giving to children who wouldn't don't get presents otherwise; hopefully they experience the gift of Jesus as well. The boys and I will deliver those tomorrow to the local collection center (thankfully there's one in the Cities or we would have to prepare way ahead of time).
Hopefully our children learn to keep giving and serving others (as they get older I hope we can fit in some service work during this season). Hopefully they find that giving is a good thing, and that this time of year doesn't have to be filled with materialism. While they enjoy looking at the occasional Target circular we might receive (which is rarely), they don't pour over toy catalogs making lists of things they expect to be given at Christmas. They do get a present under the tree from us on Christmas morning as well as a stocking of smaller treats, but hopefully they are finding that the waiting part of Advent isn't about waiting to open presents. We can only try to instill in them those values at least.
So may you discover the blessings of a life like St. Nicholas: of following the Christ Child and giving to others.