My daughter asked me: “Mama, what is Christmas?”christmas

Pick the correct answer:
a) a meaningless opportunity to spend more money than is sensible on objects that we probably don’t want and won’t appreciate.
b) a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to Earth to save mankind.
c) a day when a jolly fat man comes to everyone’s house to spread gifts and goodwill.

It’s a good question. And with a 3- year old in mind I’m not sure of the right answer.

But what will I tell her?

My Christmas always included a visit to Church, a walk along a very cold and windy beach while my mother and grandmother cooked the turkey, and the Queen’s speech at 3:00. These traditions probably won’t be passed on to my children, partly because we have no beach within 10 hours of home (I don’t count the Donau channel as a beach- I need the sea out there!), and my husband is about as likely to listen to the Queen as he is to play a round of golf with Kim Jong-un. But I like to think of what I will pass on, and how I will explain this season to my ever- questioning daughter.

I’m not particularly religious, although I love Midnight Mass and all the carols that we sing around advent, but we currently live in a very Catholic country, so there is no way we can avoid all that is going on at this time of the year. However, here in Austria, Saint Nicholas and Krampus (St. Nick’s devilish companion) are key features in the run- up to Christmas, and at Kindergarten all through December, and now starting in November too, Saint Nicholas songs are sung, Christmas songs are taught and and advent calendars tempt the children with chocolate. At school she will perform in the Nativity, and all her friends will wish her an Happy Christmas before rushing off to open presents and eat too much. She will do the same, although we have a policy on spending which aims to limit the crazy pile of objects under the tree to only one or two per person. She knows that the pile isn’t only for her, and that she has to give presents in order to receive any, and she is learning (slowly) about sharing and giving to others in need.

I was brought up with Father Christmas- the traditional term in the UK for the ‘jolly fat man’. Here, and in the USA, Santa Claus is more common.  A similar figure with the same name (in other languages) exists in several other countries, including Canada and France (Père Noël), Spain (Papá Noel, Padre Noel), almost all Hispanic South America (Papá Noel), Brazil (Papai Noel), Portugal (Pai Natal), Italy (Babbo Natale), Ireland (Daidí na Nollag), Armenia (Dzmer Papik), India (Christmas Father), Andorra (Pare Noel), Romania (Moş Crăciun), Turkey (Noel Baba), Hungary (Télapó) and Bulgaria (Dyado Koleda, Grandfather Christmas). When I lived in Moscow I saw Дед Мороз (Ded Moroz- Father Frost) and Снегурочка (Snegurochka- the Snow Maiden) out on the streets with their bags of presents; and that is the key- despite the different names and basic principals behind this figure, he always brings gifts to the good children around the world.

I won’t go into the conflict between telling children about Santa versus Jesus, as that’s never ending, depending upon your faith or lack of it. Smart parents will combine the two, using the Santa idea to teach their children to be giving rather than demanding, and to be generous to others at this time of year, as we try to be the year round.

So I would go with option d). All of the above.