St. Nicholas

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A Party: Introduce Saint Nicholas to Other Families

by Kristin Johnson, describing St. Nicholas parties held while a graduate student in theology at St. Mary's College, St. Andrews University, St. Andrews, Scotland

We had a big St. Nicholas party each year after the Christmas parade in Anstruther (which was always on St. Nicholas Eve and had real reindeer with Father Christmas!), for graduate student families, 30–40 people.

St Nicholas leaving gifts
Postcard: Germany
St Nicholas Center Collection

A party to introduce St. Nicholas

• Decorate the house to be festive
• Serve apple cider and nibbles, etc.
• When guests arrive, leave all shoes in the vestibule
• Begin with a few fun carols and songs
• Have someone read a good Christmas picture book*
• Have a sort of 'show and tell' storytime about St Nicholas with oranges, candy canes, stockings, and gold coins . . . first, asking kids and parents alike why we have these things at Christmas, and then explaining why, with the St Nicholas story
• Talk about how different countries have different traditions
• During all this story stuff, secretly fill everyone's shoes with a clementine, candy cane, gold coins, and possibly another small Scottish sweet (parents often got a Lindt chocolate ball, or a chocolate liqueur!)
• The kids were then given a picture of St Nicholas, to take home to colour
• The parents were all given a couple of pages with more thorough info on the history of St Nicholas and the development of the North American Santa Claus and, the url for St. Nicholas Center
• Adults love looking at an old Norman Rockwell Christmas book of pictures to trace the development of the "Coca-Cola Santa Clause"

They were great times—and needless to say the kids were always super-thrilled when they put on their shoes to go home (the way our house was set up, no-one could hear the discoveries as each family left, so it was a surprise for each one). The parents were pretty pleased too! And me, I was pleased as punch to be helping folk reclaim a bit of their Christian tradition, and, in the process, realize how much fun it was to do so.

I hadn't been prepared the first year just how much of a deal the party would be for some parents. Many of them (a mix of Brits and North Americans) had no clue about St Nicholas—and many were struggling with how to talk to their kids about Santa Claus, whether to mention him in the home or not, etc. Some parents, after reading the pages through, came back and asked for more, to share with their friends. And, both parents and singles have continued to ask.

I guess now, upon reflection, for that particular scenario it was important that we didn't make a direct connection between the modernized Santa Claus and St Nick for the children on that night. Without really thinking about it, we left that for the parents to do. I didn't know all the families well, only some—and now that I think about it, it could have been transgressing upon 'personal family territory' had we explicitly made the connection for the children without the parents knowing in advance . . . we could have upset kids without knowing it. As it was, it worked really well (the kids who were old enough to make the connection on their own were also old enough to no longer 'believe in Santa Claus'). It probably is wise to ensure parents know in advance what the gathering is celebrating.

*And maybe also wise to only read a book like the Joslin book (Saint Nicholas: The story of the real Santa Claus) if the parents are cool with it. After all, 'they' are the parents . . . .
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By Kristin Johnson, used by permission.

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