And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in showing off this power of his, or else it was his own kind, generous, hearty nature, and his sympathy with all poor men, that led him straight to Scrooge’s clerk’s; for there he went, – A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
On a train back from Amsterdam, I was telling my 4 year old daughter what her last name is.
“Nicolas?” She was outraged. “I’m not Father Christmas!”
There were many people on that train who started laughing.
“Who is Saint Nicolas?” I asked her
“He’s Sinterklaas,” she responded, using the Dutch name.
“I see, when does he come to Holland?”
I made sure this year that I left a pair of clogs by the chimney so she could find a chocolate surprise on the day.
“Where does he travel from?”
Her last name has travelled a long way. It came from Lebanon in the late 1800s to France and then to Venezuela. Her great grandparents not only carried their name but their Christian faith too. I don’t forget this and will keep honouring the Spanish and Latin American tradition of leaving a bowl of water for the three king’s camels on January 6th. It’s known as Dia de los Reyes Magos or Epiphany in English.
We have met Saint Nicolas, the patron saint of children, two times already and my daughter is still overcome whenever she is face to face with him. I understand, we forget that for very small children it’s like a character has stepped out of a story right in front of them. For me, he is an archetype from European folklore and literature. Think of the popes of old, Merlin the magician, Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, the Ghost of Christmas Present, the Professor in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Dumbledore from Harry Potter.
Sinterklaas komt! The excitement here in early December is palpable. So powerful is the figure of Sinterklaas in The Netherlands that even the Nazis could not deny him entry when the Dutch were living under occupation.
I see you, I know you and you matter. If the literary characters illuminate and spread light, then Saint Nicolas embodies the Gospel.
“What’s on his hat?” I ask my daughter
“I don’t know,”
“It’s called a cross, a Christian cross,”
It was time, I felt, to start to tell her more.
“Christmas means Christ’s mass. A long time ago, it was the birthday of someone called Jesus,”
“Who is he?”
Behold, I make all things new
Through carols, books and that wonderful You Tube, I have been able to facilitate her learning and she has amazed me with with how well she can follow. As this year draws to a close, my husband and I prepare for a permanent move back to the United Kingdom where we will raise our daughter. I have promised to reconcile Christmas traditions for her from the countries in her life and in ours. Here’s to the child and all they have to teach us. One of the best things my daughter has given me is the reclaiming of Christmas.