St. Nicholas Day Worship
Ideas from Churches—
On the Sunday closest to December 6th, four special things happen.
- Choral Evensong and Eucharist with special music and anthems.
- Three children tell the story of St. Nicholas in the place of a sermon.
- Children’s Ingathering for the Needy: in preparation for a “possible” visit from St. Nicholas, the children (with help from their families) gather food and toys for the needy, and bring them to church that night.
- A Visit from Bishop Nicholas: during the service, a member of our congregation who knows a lot of Arabic and enough [Greek] to “fake it” appears at the doors dressed in mitre, chasuble, and crozier. He listens to the children’s stories, answers questions (in faux [Greek], “translated” by the Vicar), gives out “gold” (chocolate) coins to all, and takes our ingathered offerings to distribute to the needy.
Many Eastern Orthodox churches have services on the evening of 5 December that feature “visits from Saint Nicholas.” He appears dressed as a bishop, not Santa. The faithful leave their shoes outside the church door, and find in them afterwards gold coins (actually chocolate wrapped in gold foil) representing the gold dowries of the three daughters.
On the Sunday closest to St. Nicholas Day, during the sermon a loud knock comes on the door. It is St. Nicholas, using his crozier to announce his presence. He comes in and tells a story about himself. After church children find their shoes, that had been left in the narthex, filled with oranges and coins.
—St. Andrews’ Episcopal Church, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
Following the sermon, in the spirit of St. Nicholas, the people have five minutes to fill in a Christmas card for an individual at Eloy [immigrant] Detention Center. To participate, write a short note on the card, sign your name, if you’d like, and include Grace St. Paul’s return address on the envelope [address given]. Time is given after the sermon to fill in the card. Cards are placed in the basket at the back of the church when leaving.
—Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Tucson, Arizona
During the Sunday closest to the 6th (usually following) during the children’s message in worship, I’ve talked with the children about St. Nicholas and his relationship to the one they know as Santa Claus. Then I put on the clothes and character (as I’ve come to understand him through conversation, reading, etc.) of Nicholas. Then I tell the story of St. Nicholas and the three young women in danger of being sold into slavery whom Nicholas secretly rescues by providing the necessary gold (coins). I then give gold coins (chocolate) to the children, and, later, the congregation. Sometimes I stay in costume and character to preach on the lectionary texts of the day.
—The Rev. Daniel Carlson, The Reformed Churches of Thompson’s Lake & Knox, New York
St. Nicholas Parish Church, Chiswick, has a special Mass at 8 pm every year on 6th December to celebrate St. Nicholas on St. Nicholas Day. A member of the congregation dressed as St. Nicholas proceeds down the church after Mass and gives gold-covered chocolate Euros to the children. They are received eagerly and devoured rapidly.
—St. Nicholas Parish Church, Chiswick, on the banks of the Thames, UK
On the Sunday closest to St. Nicholas Day, the children attending the liturgy are invited to leave a shoe in the Narthex right before the sermon is delivered. There is then usually a children’s lesson about Nicholas. After the liturgy, the kids go to recover their shoes and find a treat—usually gold-wrapped chocolate coins.
—Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington
The Sunday before celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas children are asked to leave a shoe at the altar. The next Sunday the shoes are filled with small treats, gifts and bookmarks provided by parish members and ministry groups. This is one way to involve children in Advent liturgy.
—St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania
On Sunday St. Nicholas Day, children give gifts of oranges to congregants as they leave the altar after receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion before returning to their seats. The oranges are a a reminder to center our lives and ministry on the generosity of God, thanking God for all God’s blessings, and caring for one another, shaping us all into witnesses to the generous love of God.
—The General Theological Seminary, New York, New York
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Articles for Churches
Ideas for parish celebration, children’s sermons, and an adult discussion guide