HDYDI: Santa vs. St. Nicholas

Entering into the Santa vs. Non-Santa or St. Nicholas camps can be as heated as to Harry Potter, or not. This is not that post.

Honestly? I don’t concern myself with whether families choose to celebrate the jolly man in red or not. Their family, their culture, their choice. My beef has always been with kids who tell mine they’re wrong for believing in Santa. Or, worse yet, parents who tell me I’m doing it wrong.

I’m pretty sure we have better things to do with our time. In our house we celebrate both men and it has been an evolution of love and celebration. Here’s how we do it.

It wasn’t until we had kids that we chose to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas. Quite honestly, it wasn’t until our first child started school. The kindergarten teachers encouraged us to do some fun activities with our kids surrounding the feast day. Thank God for Catholic school teachers. Now, on the evening of December 5, our children set out their shoes in hopes that St. Nicholas will make a pit stop. We write letters to Santa (in our house, they’re one in the same) using this printable. Typically, St. Nicholas is kind enough to leave Christmas pajamas, a Christmas book or two and – the highlight of the stop – chocolate coins. I’m not a huge celebrator of all the feast days the Catholic church remembers, but St. Nicholas I adore. Will’s middle name is Nicholas. We have always admired this saint and what he represents.

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Yes, we do the obligatory photo with Santa. Not sure if you’ve heard, but the *real* Santa wears cowboy boots. It’s true. We usually visit him the Tuesday before Thanksgiving (shorter lines). This year, Gianna was not a fan. I think my favorite part of visiting him is that he really takes time to listen to my kids, give them a high five and remind them to be good to dear old mom and dad. He brings out the best in my kids. Every year.santa, blog

A few years ago, we shifted the focus away from Santa and onto Jesus Christmas morning. It wasn’t any one thing, but lots of little ones. We have asked Santa to refrain from bringing the kids any big things on Christmas morning and leave that fun to us. Gratefully, he obliged. His gifts are usually family games, a little sugar, some small gift cards to favorite places, books and little toys. Scott and I have chosen to give our children three gifts. You can read more about that tradition here.

Before opening our presents, we pray over them, offering thanksgiving for those that made them, those that gave them and the jobs they provided. It ramps down the crazy and returns the focus. Of course they’re excited they get to open presents (who wouldn’t be?!), but this reminds them every good gift comes from a higher place.

Honestly, our traditions have evolved as our children have grown (and been added!) to the family. I think that’s the beauty of family, you do what’s right based on your own unique family culture. It changes. The meaning of it all becomes more important than the gifts you give and who gives them. There is no one right, or Catholic, way to celebrate the generosity of St. Nicholas.

May each of you have a blessed Christmas, no matter what man in red comes to visit your home.


  1. Sarah Johnson on December 16, 2015 at 9:09 am

    What is HDYDI? Too lazy to search for it. Sarah

    • Kathryn on December 16, 2015 at 1:37 pm

      Oops, sorry! It stands for “how do you do it!”

      • Sarah on December 16, 2015 at 2:28 pm

        Of course! I coulda used my brain. Thanks!

  2. Aimee on December 16, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    I love this! Our family has chosen not to “do” (for lack of a better word) Santa, but I would never dream to tell another family what’s right for them. I truly admire the way your family celebrates this season!

  3. Jenny on December 16, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    LOVE the idea of praying over the presents before you open them – what a beautiful tradition, Kathryn!

    • Kathryn on December 20, 2015 at 11:33 pm

      Thanks, Jenny. Props go to the Mr. W on that one.

  4. Amy on December 16, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    Sounds a lot like our house! We have a Nick, he’s 2. I chose his name during church on his feast day! We love Santa as well. Must be a “Whitaker” thing. Btw, we always call our family Team Whitaker too!! That is how I found your blog.

    • Kathryn on December 20, 2015 at 11:32 pm

      Sounds like you have good taste 😉

  5. Nora on December 17, 2015 at 2:27 am

    Here in Switzerland everyone celebrates St. Nicholas, regardless of religion. Santa doesn’t exist. In religious families it’s the Christ child bringing presents, and we open them in the evening. It’s always amazing to me how traditions vary from country to country! My husband is from Croatia and there they celebrate Santa Lucia during advent. Now because my stepdad is from England where Santa Claus does bring presents on Christmas morning, we have a LOT of traditions to go through 😉

    We’re trying to go with that 3 present rule as well. Last year we didn’t really buy a present for our daughter, because she was only 4 months old and we knew she’d get loads and loads of presents from our families anyways. We decided we’d handle that problem by opening a bank account for her where people can add to her education fund if they want to give her something for Christmas/birthdays. Turns out people just love giving presents too much 😉

    • Kathryn on December 20, 2015 at 11:32 pm

      I LOVE all these traditions, Nora. I’m so blessed you shared them with all of us. What a fruitful and beautiful time for your family. Merry (early) Christmas!

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