Celebrating St Nicholas

by Joanna Bogle

It might be fun to celebrate the Feast of St Nicholas by telling the story of his life at supper, and then having the children leave out their shoes by the fireplace overnight, to see if they are filled with sweets and biscuits—or with a cane!—in the morning. The biscuits should include traditional pfefferniisse.

Saint Nicholas, 1985 Guernsey stamp
"Saint Nicholas: Christmas Gift Bearer"
First Day Issue 1985, Guernsey
St Nicholas Center Collection

I don't see that this precludes St Nicholas from visiting again on Christmas Eve and filling stockings. Incidentally, the proper tradition for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve is that he fills stockings with small toys and knickknacks—not pillow cases with expensive gifts. It's surely better for children to know and understand that "big" presents come from fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles and grandparents, because these people love them and are loved in return? They can then enjoy the essence of present-giving and what it represents. Lots of gifts just materialising at the end of a bed is not the same: they should be given, and be seen to be given.

Traditional things to put in stockings on Christmas Eve include:

  • an orange or tangerine,
  • chocolate coins in a little bag (remembering the bags of money that good St Nicholas gave for the three impoverished girls who were desperate to be married but had no clothes or food and couldn't meet anyone nice),
  • a new penny, (or an old one polished up),
  • a sugar mouse,
  • a chocolate watch,
  • a carnival "hooter" that unfurls as it blows and has a feather on the end,
  • an apple,
  • some nuts,
  • small toys (card games such as "Donkey" and "Snap" and "Happy Families", a little fairy doll for a girl, wind-up clockwork toys, model soldiers).

An Irish nun told me that in Ireland it is traditional also to have a piece of peat in your stocking—representing fuel and prosperity for the coming year. A German gift is an apple with a coin stuck in it, or a marzipan pig with a (chocolate) coin in its mouth.

On both December 6 and Christmas Eve [St Nicholas]/Santa Claus could be left a glass of milk (or whisky, on Christmas Eve), a carrot for his reindeer and something to nibble on (on Christmas Eve, a mince pie).

From A Book of Feasts and Seasons by Joanna Bogle. Copyright © 1992 Gracewing Publishing UK
A comprehensive resource for celebrating every occasion of the Christian Year with activities and recipes. Purchase from amazon.com, amazon.ca or amazon.uk.

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