Celebrating Saint Nicholas Day
Invite Saint Nicholas into Your Home
So it is St. Nicholas who visits our home and leaves gifts in our stockings. On the evenings of December 3rd, 4th and 5th during our evening prayers, we say prayers to St. Nicholas, thanking him for his continued guidance and intercession. When our children were younger, after evening prayers on December 5th, they would hang their stockings just before going to bed. Otherwise, the suspense would kill them. Now, hanging the stockings is part of the evening prayer ritual on December 5th, then everyone disperses to do homework or whatever.
The older children and I set the table together for breakfast. For my oldest child, Faustina, this became her special job and her special talent. We use a red table cloth, bring out the best silver and plates, and decorate the table with candles and anything else that strikes our imagination: candles, small statues, a scattering of oranges and chocolate money, pine boughs. It is always beautiful. While the girls set the table, I bake a coffee cake, cut grapefruit and get the juice and coffee pot ready.
Gifts from Saint Nicholas
In the middle of the night, a mysterious someone fills everyone's stockings. 'Stocking gifts' are never large or expensive, rarely does any one item cost more than $10. They don't need to be. This is the celebration of a feast day, not an occasion to get stuff. And they're not competing for attention with the Christmas gift from Gramma.
Typically stockings in our house contain a book, a tangerine, some chocolate money, a new pen or penknife, a small toy or new CD. A nice piece of hand made jewelry from a craft fair, a new tool from the hardware store, or a package of special teas are other possibilities. After a few years of direct hints, mom even gets some real surprises in her stocking.
The children adapted very quickly and easily to the new, smaller stockings when we began our tradition of celebrating Saint Nicholas day, probably because though the presents were small, they got presents three weeks before their school friends.
A Wonderful Family Tradition
The morning of December 6th always starts very early, usually around 5:00 o'clock when an avalanche of excited children lands on our bed. (They sleep a little later now that they're blase teens. But not much!) There is plenty of time to eat and talk before school and work starts. (If need be, I drive them to school that day.) We have a feast breakfast and empty our stockings as we eat.
In the early morning of December 6th, as the dawn slowly stains the sky pink and lights the snow, it's really pleasant to relax and enjoy the children's chatter without worrying about cooking a turkey and getting to Mass on time or wondering whether stocking gifts are distracting them from the Nativity. In the evening, we thank St. Nicholas for his gifts and ask him to continue to pray for us in the coming year.
Peter and I have heard few regrets from the children about the passing of Santa Claus. We have none. Taking Santa Claus out of Christmas, and taking the silly red elf suit off Saint Nicholas has been the best thing we could have done to reclaim the Nativity, teach our children about giving and receiving, and actually enjoy Christmas.