I took Ben, for the first time, to the annual St. Nicholas Night at our church. The event is held every year but it seems like it always falls on a day that Ben is with his dad. This year, we got lucky and St. Nicholas was scheduled for a day that I had Ben.
Before we left for the evening, I prepped Ben a little on what to expect out of Jolly 'Ol St. Nick. We googled St. Nicholas, laughed at his funny pictures, pointed out the physical differences between St. Nick and Santa and read the traditional St. Nicholas story. We didn't talk much about how St. Nick might be different than Santa - other than in his appearance.
We show up at church and it's a great, crafty, spirited extravaganza. Stations for kids to make ornaments, draw pictures of St. Nick, paint, color, you get the idea. Ben loved all the crafts, especially the ornament making stations.
About an hour into the festivities, parents collected their children for a St. Nicholas service. We Episcopalians have to be formal about our celebrations; I'm learning this. Even when dozens of young and hungry children are waiting anxiously to see St. Nick. We love our traditions, we Episcopalians. But I digress.
So we start to sing the St. Nicholas song and St. Nick makes his appearance, strategically weaving between each table so that the children can catch a glimpse of him. To my delight, he looks exactly like the pictures that we saw online earlier.
The kids are then asked to come sit in front of him and hear the St. Nicholas story. I tug on Ben's hand, he tells me "no way" is he going alone and I realize that he is slightly afraid of St. Nick. No worries, I grab Ben's hand and we go sit on the carpet together. And then St. Nick spills the beans:
"Do you know the difference between St. Nicholas and Santa Clause?" he asks the children. "Nooooooo," many little heads shake from side to side. "Well, Santa is the spirit of Christmas. St. Nicholas was a real person."
Ben looks at me. Confused. Oh boy. I tell him he's about to get a chocolate and he is distracted, momentarily.
He retrieves his chocolate, we say a few prayers, sing another song, and then it's time for pictures. My normally outgoing and talkative boy clams up and grabs my arm: "Mommy, you have to come WITH me." OK, I walk up with him and he motions for me to stand right next to St. Nick's chair while he has a photo taken.
Then, to my surprise, Ben leaps off of St. Nick's lap the moment the flash goes off. Doesn't want a second picture. Doesn't want to tell St. Nick about the Air Hogs or Legos sets that are on his list. Doesn't ask him for another chocolate or even a candy cane. Oh no, my boy is done with St. Nick.
We skip the dinner because it's spaghetti and meatballs, which neither of us eats, and head next door to Bernardo's. Ben goes straight to grilled cheese nirvana, pausing long enough to say, "Mommy, I like Santa MUCH more than St. Nick."
I haven't heard any other discussion since then and am once again thankful that at the innocent age of 6, Ben recalls the details of St. Nicholas night like this: "I got to make THREE COOL ORNAMENTS! Wanna see them? Mommy gave me a Zone bar BEFORE dinner! AND, we didn't have to stay for dinner! St. Nick was funny looking. He gave me a chocolate coin. I went to dinner at my favorite new restaurant, wait, what's it called? Bernardo's? BERNARDO'S! I LOVE that place. They have the BEST grilled cheese sandwich. It is SO BIG. After I ate it, I opened my chocolate coin and ate it too. AND I had that Zone bar at church. Gosh, I can eat a LOT. Have you seen my dog, Molly? Do you want to pet her soft ears?"