Families Tell How They Celebrate St. Nicholas
Ideas from Families
A simple observance
Living in Holland, Michigan, a city founded by Dutch settlers, it was easy to have Dutch touches in our St. Nicholas observance. When our children were young, and not so young, they placed their wooden shoes, with pieces of carrots, by the fireplace on the evening of December 5th. In the morning the boys would find two Matchbox cars and a gold mesh bag of Dutch chocolate coins. Our daughter might find a piece of jewelry or special barrettes. Over the years, Dutch chocolate initial letters found their way into the shoes and the cars and toys gave way to a tape, a book, or earrings. In such simple ways, St. Nicholas Day helped us connect faith and giving and have a bit of fun early in the waiting weeks of Advent.
—Carol Myers, Holland, Michigan
On St Nicholas eve we assemble cookie plates for people we know in need of extra prayers. On St Nicholas day, St Nicholas leaves a speculatius cookie in his shape on each plate. We then drive around to deliver the cookie plates. At each house we pause to say a prayer for that person, leave the cookies at their door, ring the doorbell and RUN! The cookies are given anonymously in honor of St Nicholas...a tag on the cookie plate explains this! we love to watch from a far the expression of people as they wonder who loved them enough to do this!
Neighborhood St. Nicholas Cheer Party & Neighborhood Baskets
At first we invited our neighbors with young children, had dinner, and then gathered in the living room to hear the story of St. Nicholas. Suddenly there would be a loud knocking at the front door! A straw basket was found on the porch, filled with small gifts for each child and some wheat, representing what St. Nicholas brought to the starving villagers. (Whenever we did this the children never noticed when an adult was out of the room, delivering the basket.)
Later, we wrote up The Story of St. Nicholas (PDF file), and put it in a basket with a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and small gifts chosen for the children in a particular family. We included a handmade snowflake cut out of paper (by one of our kids) and instructions to put the snowflake on the front door, copy the story, and deliver a similar basket to another neighbor. By Christmas nearly all of our neighbors' doors would have snowflakes on them.
On December 5th, after dinner, but not so late that children would be sleeping, we sneaked down the street, left the basket on a front step, knocked on the door, and ran away. We hid behind trees to be sure the door was opened and the basket received. We had lots of giggles delivering the basket and we had so much fun watching snowflakes appear on neighbors' doors. One year, we managed to spread the cheer (and snowflakes) on three separate streets in our neighborhood—fifteen houses in all.
—Pat Mochel, Baltimore, Maryland
Neighborhood Surprises, a variation inspired by Pat Mochel's story
Stockings on December 6th, not Christmas
Instead of our stockings being an addition to an already overloaded Christmas morning, we have decided to put them out the night before the Feast of St. Nicholas. In the morning, the stockings are filled. As with any family tradition, we have tweaked it to fit our family. Since the stockings I purchased pre-kiddos are HUGE, it takes a LOT to fill them. We include: the first oranges of the season AND an apple, chocolate coins, a candy cane, gingerbread men (an old Polish St. Nicholas tradition), the annual ornament (I buy my kids an ornament each year) as well as one small toy and a religious item for their church busy bag.
—Jen Catholic Mothers Online
Do a St. Nicholas Deed
Is there someone in your neighborhood who will need their snow removed from their sidewalk? Is there someone who you know needs food to eat? How about leaving a bag of food on their doorknob or porch. Is there someone who needs a hot meal and a listening ear because they have no one? Keep in mind, you need to perform your Nicholas deed in private or it’s not in the spirit of St. Nicholas.
—Mitchell County Press News, Mason City, Iowa
Letter from Saint Nicholas
In our house we celebrate St. Nicholas day and have a visit from Santa on Christmas, too. From our point of view they are one and the same but Santa visits everyone—even those who don't understand who he really is. He always writes a "pastoral letter" (he is a bishop after all) and he even suggested one year that on Christmas we say a prayer and sing a carol at the manger before opening presents—a tradition we have kept up ever since.
—Christine Paris, Reading, Pennsylvania
Advent Calendar Surprise
Put a treasure hunt clue inside the advent calendar. (All the other days of the Advent calendar are normal, but on this one day put a clue for the start of a treasure hunt.) The kids run around the house following clues. And then finally get to the presents! The presents are always Christmas items to have during the weeks before Christmas: a kit for making Christmas cards, a paint-your-own nativity set, etc.
—from Anne 123 Baby Center
St. Nicholas Day is a holiday we celebrate in December. Sometimes on St. Nicholas Day at dinner we read the story of St. Nicholas. He would walk up to people's doors and knock on the door and then run and hide. The things he would leave were a delight to everybody. Here are some of the things: something wooden, something warm, and something good to eat. When we get to open our stockings we find something wooden, like a yo-yo; something warm, like a snow hat; and something good to eat, like chocolates and other fun stuff like that. It makes me feel special when I get to open my stocking and I think of St. Nicholas and how he was kind to people who were less fortunate than him.
—Hailey Hope Matthews, third grade, Corvallis gazettetimes.com
Letter to the Holy Child
One of my favorite customs is the Advent practice of writing a letter to the Holy Child (rather than Santa) mentioning resolutions for the weeks of Advent and listing all gift wishes. This letter is then placed on a windowsill, and . . . St. Nicholas will deliver the letter to Heaven and read it to the Infant Christ.
—Ericka Soileau CatholicMom.com
Plant a Wheat Garden
Plant a wheat garden in memory of St. Nicholas who provided grain during famine and always showed concern for the poor and hungry. It will be growing nicely by St. Nicholas Day. A white votive candle may be placed in the garden on Christmas Eve showing that the Christ, whom St. Nicholas points to, comes into the world at Christmas.
—adapted from OrthodoxChristianity.net
Stocking Stuffer Ideas
It is our family tradition to fill our stockings with gifts, gingerbread cookies and treats, to be enjoyed on St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6/19. We include:
- Gold chocolate coins, Sacagawea dollar coins, other money, or gift certificate to represent the money Nicholas threw into the window of a poor family’s house.
- Something to represent his devotion to God: a spiritually oriented book, icon, cross, prayer rope or other object.
- An item of clothing to represent his clothing the poor (pajamas are popular).
- A toy because he is the children's gift-giver.
- Traditional ginger spice cookies, the food most commonly associated with St. Nicholas (lenten recipe here).
- Something to represent the ship he saved through prayer.
—Adapted from Elizabeth, Festal Celebrations' Gallery
Special Ornaments from St. Nicholas
When I had my own children, I wanted to make the holiday season a season and observing St. Nicholas Day was a perfect way to do that. When my son was two, we put his shoes outside his bedroom door on the evening of Dec. 5th, and in the morning he was very surprised to find a shortbread cookie inside his shoe! He told everyone he saw that day about the cookie in his shoe. And so our new tradition was born.
For the first few years, the kids found just small food treats in their shoes, and nothing else. Then St. Nicholas started giving a special ornament that related to their special interests. So, Buzz Lightyear, or Superman appeared. A Crayola snowman the year crayons were the three-year-old's favorite. Then a princess or fairy—whatever is the current enthusiasm. The kids cannot wait to see what kind of treat and ornament they will find in their shoes!
—adapted from House of Hodgepodge
St. Nicholas Day at the Sabourins—a podcast
Molly Sabourin and her eight-year-old son Elijah discuss St. Nicholas and how their Orthodox family celebrate him. It isn't always easy to be out of sync with the surrounding culture's emphasis on Santa. So Elijah reads The Real Santa and his mom reads St. Nicholas Gets the Goods. The family puts their shoes out on St. Nicholas Eve, filled with carrots (for the donkey) and notes of appreciation to the saint and asking for his prayers. Gifts appear during the night. Listen to hear them talk about ways St. Nicholas helps keep a focus on love, hope, generosity and faith in this busy season.
—Molly Sabourin, Close to Home, Ancient Faith Radio
Surprises all season
The Marty family 'kept' the church year. We celebrated baptismal days as much as birthdays, with godparents present. Sometimes we'd change tablecloths to match parts of the church year and even used a little cookbook to match the church year. Along the way we observed some rather obscure festivals. The one the Marty children best remember is St. Nicholas Day. Every December 6, six stockings would appear on nails alongside prominent stair steps: Joel, John, Peter, Micah, and (foster children) Fran, James. We still have the socks and still hang them, though the last of the "kids" flew the nest in 1981!
Alongside them we had a little plaque, plastic covering a saint's card on wood; a modern representation of St. Nicholas and three little children in a tub; we dug up the story to explain their presence.
And each day (unless one or all was egregiously out of line!) there'd be a little present in each sock. Usually these were practical, such as a big new eraser, sometimes fattening, as in candy, and sometimes special—a toy car, or something. This season long present-giving matched our opening of Advent House doors and evening readings around the table (which we did all through the years). We found that this St. Nicholas observance both subtracted from the tension children bring to the one-hour-long package tearing open on Dec 24 or 25 and built expectation for the Greater One to come.
We think the children learned much about the calendar and about generosity and joy; two of the grown children have a similar custom in the family. I can't remember whether we pretended that St Nicholas actually came (when they were very little), but I also can't remember having to explain that the parents did it, and can't remember older children telling the younger. Maybe we were all happily in on a conspiracy of joy.
—Martin E. Marty, Riverside, Illinois
The boys' mother, Elsa, who invented this scheme, died in 1981.
Letters and Treats
In our house St. Nicholas is St. Nicholas—the good Bishop from Myra who rides a white horse. Santa Claus is Santa Claus—that jolly fellow who brings gifts wrapped in gold paper sometime during the wee hours of Christmas morning. St. Nicholas reminds us during this sometimes hectic season to keep our hearts focused on the Babe that we remember each Christmas.
On the Eve of Dec. 5th we get out two pairs of Papa's dress shoes and shine them up. Each child has a little stocking and in that stocking goes each child's letter to Santa Claus. St. Nicholas is kind enough to drop the stockings off at the North Pole on his way back to the starry Heavens. We light the candles on Mother Mary's path and hear the same story that goes so nicely with our Advent Garden. A carrot for St. Nicholas' horse and a couple of cookies are left for our saintly friend with a note saying, "Dear Saint Nick, this is a snack for you and your horse."
The next morning we find St. Nicholas and his horse have arrived in the Advent Garden! I made both these figures years ago. St. Nicholas is made from the pattern found in The Nature Corner (amazon.com, amazon.ca or amazon.uk). The horse is from the pattern found in Feltcraft (amazon.com, amazon.ca or amazon.uk). The stockings are gone and in their place Papa's shoes are overflowing with fruit and nuts. My children have such fun piling up on Mama's bed and cracking nuts and feasting on St. Nicholas' gifts. St. Nicholas' gift to me is that breakfast on this morning in pretty much taken care of! This year St. Nicholas left packages of dried figs. Later in the day my oldest daughter scooped out the insides and filled them with melted dark chocolate and then dipped them—they will be a nice addition to a Christmas Tea with friends on Friday. We enjoy more stories about St. Nicholas and I was happy to find a coloring page with St. Nicholas and his horse.
One year my children asked me why St. Nicholas doesn't visit all the children we know—well you do have to invite him and you have to be prepared to love Mother Mary and help her prepare for Jesus' birthday!
—Donna Blevins, Sandyston, New Jersey, Island in the Grove
Letters to St. Nicholas
Our family observes St Nicholas Eve—my husband is of German descent. His ancestors came to the US long enough ago that they have lost any European customs. I am Irish background. When our first child was born, we wanted to acknowledge both backgrounds, and we also wanted to try to steer the Christmas focus from toys and gimme gimme. We started the custom of writing letters to St Nicholas. On the evening of Dec 5, we put them in our shoes and place the shoes at the fireplace. Sometimes we put a carrot for the reindeer, horse, or whatever animal he was using. The letter was not a long list of stuff desired, but a polite letter inquiring after St. Nicholas' previous year and saying how we were, how the writer had grown, high points of past year and so on. If a wished for item or two was mentioned, that was okay.
In the morning, the children awakened to nuts, candies, tangerines in the toes of the shoes, and a few small presents. These were things oriented towards Christ-in-Christmas—Advent calendars, picture books or later, story books on the Nativity, sometimes crafts that helped to pass time and diffuse some of that pre-Christmas energy—wooden cutout ornaments with paints, and so on. When they got older, counted cross stitch ornament kits with Jesus, Mary, or Wise Men and the like (all girl children here). Maybe a few barrettes or hairbands, especially if useful for Christmas wear, or lip gloss.
When the girls left home, they took the custom with them to college—they would tell their close friends and the whole pack of them would sneak around the dorm, putting candies in shoes that had been left by the door overnight!
I know it isn't quite the way things are done in Orthodox families, or in Europe—it is our own adaptation. Coming from the families we do, it was unavoidable that the larger celebration would take place on Christmas day. But we found that putting out the shoes for St. Nicholas went a long way to steering the message to Jesus' birth and away from presents for kids.
It has an added advantage we had not anticipated—when the letters go into the shoes, that is the end of talking about wanting this or that for Christmas. At school, other kids are telling each other about what they are going to get, or what they want, but our kids had already sent their notes to St. Nick. They also were the only kids who had received an actual visit from him and some small treats earlier in the month! So our kids did not spend the next three weeks adding to their requests, or paying much attention to toy ads on TV.
—Mary Finnerty, Titusville, New Jersey
Telling the story
In rearing our children, Dorothy and I looked for ways to observe Advent that did not step on Christmas. We have Advent calendars and often send Advent calendars to godchildren. We have an Advent wreath. Actually, it is just four candles in holders dressed with evergreens or holly and ribbons of blue or purple. On Christmas we sometimes add a fifth candle in the center.
We usually remember two of the Advent saints at home. St. Nicholas, December 6, celebrates the real forerunner of Santa Claus. We give out little gold covered chocolate coins and a little gift for each child. St. Lucy's Day, December 13, we have coffee and fresh cinnamon rolls in honor of the Lucia Bride, part of Dorothy's Swedish heritage. . . .
You have a story to tell. Do not be shy. The story is about Advent and Christmas. It is about traditions and memories. Share your story with your children and your grandchildren, your godchildren, nieces and nephews. Share your story with your neighbors and those who may not have heard it yet. Ultimately, the story is about the birth of Jesus, the Word of God, Child of God. He came to be among us to share this life as one of us. "To dwell among us," as St. John says, literally, "to pitch his tent among us," so that we would be closer to God and God's love. So, accept the gift of Christmas. Enjoy, celebrate and tell your stories.
—Bishop Neff Powell, Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia
Blessed to be a blessing
This morning, as has been our family custom since our first child was born, our children woke up to find new Christmas ornaments wrapped in simple cloth bags by their beds. The ornaments reflect an interest or activity that each one has been involved in this year. With the ornaments each child also receives a $10.00 bill, knowing that with this gift from St. Nicholas comes a charge to purchase a gift for a needy child. Some years they each purchase one small item and some years they pool their resources to buy one big item. Regardless, it must be something that they would want for themselves and then give it away to someone else.
After Christmas, each of the ornaments is loving preserved by my wife who will, someday, present them to each child as a wedding gift for their first Christmas Tree.
That's St. Nicholas Day for us.
—Father Robert McMeekin, Holy Cross Orthodox Christian Church, Chicago City, Minnesota
Acts of kindness
For nearly ten years, our family has celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas. The night before this feast, my wife and I decorate the dining room with candles, hints of Christmas, and the makings of a breakfast feast. We awaken early on the morning of December 6. The table is set with our finest dishes, silverware, teacups, special pastries, and cinnamon rolls. In the center of the table stands a wooden figure of the kindly bishop (we found it in a Christmas store).
The purpose of this feast is to remember and celebrate St. Nicholas' example of compassion. Before we begin to eat, each family member draws another member's name from a hat. On St. Nicholas Day, we perform secret acts of kindness for the person whose name we have drawn. In this way we seek to be like Bishop Nicholas, who gave generously and secretly. At the end of our meal, we share this prayer:
God of joy and cheer, we thank you for your servant, the good bishop Nicholas. In loving the poor, he showed us your kindness; in caring for children, he revealed your love. Make us thoughtful without need of reward so that we, too, may be good followers of Jesus.
—David Batchelder, Plano, Texas
A rich collection of rituals, celebrations, and prayer to build traditions for the whole cycle of the church year. Many ideas for families to adapt for their particular situation. Easy to use format, not overwhelming. Excellent resource. Purchase from Purchase from amazon.com, amazon.ca or amazon.uk.
It’s traditional to eat spice cookies and put chocolates and and fruit in children’s shoes, however I wanted to do something that wouldn’t be like a second Christmas, but would somehow capture the spirit of the season. This is how we celebrate: I make the girls little cards with a picture of St Nicholas on the front, this year I used a British engraving of the Saint on a donkey, and I wrap up Christmas ornaments. Each year the girls put their own ornaments on the tree. When they grow up and leave home they can take their St Nicholas ornaments with them for their own trees. I also make a cheese cake to eat for pudding at supper-time. I rarely make cheese cake for "nice tea" so it is a treat for them (and my children dislike the dried fruit and spice of Christmas foods). I like to think the girls will continue the tradition with their own children.
—"Good Life Great Little"
Keeping the spirit all week
Read stories of St. Nicholas' life and keep the spirit of giving like he did. Bake bread and give it to a neighbor. Help a neighbor with yard work or snow shoveling. Invite children to help bake star shaped cookies and pretend they are St. Nicholas helpers. Enjoy eating and sharing the cookies.
A School Memory and Blessing Returned
This was always a big day back in the old East Baltimore neighborhood. Kids of Eastern European descent got a stocking full of goodies 19 days prior to Christmas. But the big event was at Saint Wenceslas School. Every year on this day the nuns would get the biggest kid in the 8th grade to dress up like the devil (pretty wicked outfit—pitchfork and all). The devil would burst into the lower grade classrooms one at a time and taunt the students for a minute or so until Saint Nicholas (played by Brother Ulrich, who had served in the Kaiser's Army; he made the vestments for the priests so his outfit was pretty authentic) arrived at the door and would command the devil in Czech to begone. He always brought with him an altar boy who carried the goodies and helped chase the devil. Saint Nick would then distribute candy to the children.
It is now a very cherished memory of my childhood. I'm sure that no other school today remembers Saint Nicholas in the same way. 2007 child psychologists would be horrified at the thought of such a scenario. However, I assure you that every Saint Wenceslas graduate would fondly recall Brother Ulrich, aka Saint Nicholas, the nuns, and the devil on this special day.
My Mom had to go into assisted living in October of this year (2007). Since 1946, when my oldest brother was born, she and my dad always made sure Saint Nicholas visited the children and grandchildren. After a 61-year run of helping Saint Nick, it's time that she gets a rest. So, at 6 am on December 6th, Saint Nick made a trip to Saint Stephen's Green Mercy Ridge to leave a stocking on her doorknob. It's the least I could do after all of these years of my parents' generosity.
—Frank Lidinsky, as told on Dan Rodricks' Baltimore Sun "Random Rodricks" blog Used by permission.
St. Nicholas Tree
This family really doesn't want to rush Christmas into the beginning of Advent. To help the children wait, surrounded as they are by cultural pressure for an "early" tree, they put up a St. Nicholas Tree on December 5th.
This is their tree, and I keep my mitts off it, no matter how clumped together all the red balls are or how big the hole in the lights is. This is where they get to hang all the ornaments that come from the fast food places, the plastic TV characters that I prefer to leave off the big tree. It's where the chintzier items that have been handed down from Patrick's family find a home. A dollar-store set of china nativity figurines—with pasty white complexions and painted-on eyelashes that resemble Tammy Faye Baker's—takes shelter under its boughs.
They arrange it, and rearrange it, a hundred times between St. Nick's Day and Christmas, and I let them keep the multicolored lights on until after they are asleep each night. No tasteful monotone schemes here. When I go in later to pull the plug, their sleeping faces are still turned toward their rainbow constellation and I watch them a long minute, nestled all snug in their beds.
Don't tell me plastic needles can't photosynthesize. Our St. Nicholas tree takes in all that is tacky and crass about this season and radiates back what is genuine and holy, faithful and evergreen.
—Kyran Pittman, Arkansas, Notes To Self
St. Nicholas for one another
We give all our immediate family gifts on St. Nicholas Day. On St. Nicholas Eve we hang simple, homemade muslin stockings, to which we add an embroidered symbol each year. We remember the story of St. Nicholas and his gift of dowries to three young maidens. Then we play St. Nicholas for each other. We hang the stockings before bed, and everyone sneaks in to put gifts in each other's stockings. On St. Nicholas morning, my two-year-old was so excited about what he had wrapped to give to me that he walked right past the rocking horse we had set out for him, to get my gifts and put them in my lap. When possible, we share a common meal with others who also celebrate this way, followed by a visit from St. Nicholas himself.
Complete with festive (borrowed) bishop's garb, St. Nicholas talks to the children, particularly emphasizing that he and God and their parents love them whether they "cry" or "pout," whether they're "good" or "bad." He then gives each of them a gold coin chocolate.
In the remaining weeks before Christmas, we try to emphasize how nice it was to receive gifts. Now we do the same for others, for this is what God does at Christmas. So we bake, sew, glue, and paste for grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends.
—Ed, Andrea, Nathanael and Rebekah Wills, Memphis, Tennessee
Used by permission of ALTERNATIVES for Simple Living
Shared gifts and notes
In our home wooden shoes are placed outside each bedroom door on the eve of the 5th of Dec. They are filled with various items St. Nicholas might appreciate: straw, carrots, a bottle of beer, cookies. The shoes are then filled by family members, in secret, independently of each other, with sweets and items which each person might enjoy. In the morning of the 6th, the treats are discovered along with a note from the good saint.
—Dan & Mary Carlson, Knox, New York
Now dere vas no hay for my steed
and no meed for my need.
Yet I did vith my nose
scent peanut brittle down to my toes,
vitch I found near de kitties—
(boy dey sure is pretty).
So enjoy dis breakfast treat
and make sure you all have some to eat.
Attend to da words of our Lord: "Keep awake"
And remember me too next year—not the fake.
Blessings to all,
Family gift-giving time
The kids put their best shoes out by the woodburning stove (some families put them outside bedroom doors) the night before. The kids also put out a carrot for St. Nicholas' donkey—one year they each put out one! When they're in bed we fill them with candy (those gold-foiled covered chocolate coins in honor of the dowry he provided the poor girls, a candy cane for his bishop's staff), 3 gingerbread cookies baked in the shape of a boy or girl (since he's the patron saint of children), a holy card of St. Nicholas and other gifts. We give the kids our Christmas gifts for them at this time instead of at Christmas. They get gifts from their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins and godparents at Christmas. We'd like to concentrate all the gift giving on St. Nicholas Day, but we don't have a universal family consensus so this works out fine. There is a very nice Byzantine hymn to St. Nicholas (Oh, who loves Nicholas the saintly, oh, who serves Nicholas the saintly. . . .) that we enjoy singing. . . . We go to mass and also read the life of St. Nicholas and a collection of legends concerning him. One day I would like to find a cookie mold in the shape of St. Nicholas. I've heard they exist (or used to) somewhere.
Catholic Information Network, Domestic Church List; permission requested
Special meal and more
At my house, out comes the Christmas tablecloth, replacing the Advent one for this one night. Candles, the good dishes, and our large and delightfully diverse collection of St. Nicholas figures grace the dinner table. We have a special meal that concludes with tea and cake, and the children place shoes by the fireplace for St. Nicholas to fill during the night.
—Anne E. Neuberger, White Bear Lake, Minnesota
Collection of 18 stories drawn from St. Nicholas' life and others which have grown up around him over the centuries. For older children or reading aloud to younger ones. Purchase from amazon.com, amazon.ca or amazon.uk.
Nicholas, not Santa
We've been celebrating St. Nicholas Day in my house for years, by setting our shoes outside our bedroom door the night before, so that they could be filled with candy, a small toy of some sort, and perhaps a book. It has helped us separate Santa from Christmas for Christopher (St. Nicholas brings us presents on his day; we give each other gifts on Christmas, to celebrate how God brings us a gift), as well as stemming some of the waiting that comes with Advent.
—James Hart Brumm, pastor, Rensselaer, New York
Sharing with friends
Since I met my husband we celebrate Saint Nicholas in England to keep a Catholic and French tradition. We were engaged on Saint Nicholas day and our daughter was baptised on his feast also. We have candles at home and we prepare for his visit the day before with a meal for him and a carrot for his donkey. Our daughter invites little friends to celebrate the feast and the visit of Saint Nicholas. He sometimes rings but his donkey is so quick that we just see the presents and the cakes (pains d'epices from France sent by my mum from Lorraine) in the shape of the donkey and the saint.
—Nathalie Henry, Manchester, United Kingdom
Gingerbread for school and neighborhood
For St. Nicholas Day we give gingerbread to my children's classmates and teacher, neighbours and dear friends. We pile in the car early, early on the 6th and deliver brown bags of gingerbread to the neighbours.
—Ramona Wildeman, Langley, British Columbia, Canada
Secret St. Nicholas
Thanks to some wonderful discussions at our church years ago, my husband and I decided to celebrate St. Nicholas with our children (we then had only one small child) on Dec. 6 and reserve Dec. 25th for the celebration of Christ's birth. We are blessed with a few family friends who honor St. Nicholas in a variety of ways, including what has grown into a Secret St. Nicholas gift-giving the night of Dec. 5. (We are all sneaking around in the dark leaving small, symbolic gifts at the other families' doors.) We do receive gifts on Christmas morning in our house from each other and family. The children wake to lots of candles, all the crèches are out, the baby Jesus is now in the the manger, and the Christ candle is finally lit in our Advent wreath. We knew that our efforts to celebrate in this way were worthwhile when our children began by-passing the Christmas tree full of presents and heading straight for the crèche on Christmas morning.
—Marcia Rizzardi, North Little Rock, Arkansas
Beyond the family
Every year, since my kids were born, I have had children over to my house for cookies and hot chocolate, and the story of St. Nicholas on the evening of Dec. 5. Then I would send them home to put one shoe out with a piece of bread or a carrot for the donkey. Around midnight I would go out and deliver little treats: mandarin oranges, nuts, candy canes, gold coins, a couple pieces of chocolate, and an evergreen twig.
This year I went to work with a basket of the same treats I used to give to the children, some Speculaas cookies and a small sign saying, Dec. 6, St. Nicholas Day. And yes, I directed a few people to www.stnicholascenter.org.
—Sabine Schultz Lamar, Columbus Ohio
Czech tradition passed along
In [St. Mary's Episcopal Church] in Abingdon, where my mother was a member of the Ladies Altar Guild, they took on adopting an immigrant family, the Jaraslava Pouska family. They found a house for them, furniture, and so forth. And as a thank-you gift, Mrs. Pouska would come every year, just after dark on December 5th, the eve of St. Nicholas Day. She would sneak up to the house, and we would hear a loud 'boom, boom, boom' on the door. No matter how fast we dashed, we never saw who delivered the wrapped carton with a return address that simply stated, "Saint Nicholas." Inside, there would be a special tin of Czechoslovakian moon cookies and a poem to members of our family. It was a tradition the Pouska family had brought with them from the outskirts of Prague to our small American town.
At Mrs. Pouska's funeral we learned that she had left each member of the Altar Guild the recipe for Czechoslovakian moon cookies in her will. In my twenty-five years as a teacher, I have told this story each year to my students and given each of them a Czechoslovakian moon cookie on St. Nicholas Day, a day that truly speaks of the generosity from one to another. Now, when those former students invite us to their weddings, we give them the recipe and a serving tray for Czechoslovakian moon cookies. From a simple tin of cookies Mrs. Pouska's generosity and thanks has spread from family to family, from teacher to student, and friend to friend, one moon cookie at a time.
—John Patterson, Baltimore, Maryland
Novena to St. Nicholas
When I was growing up we always said the family rosary after dinner and then, come nine days before St. Nicholas Feast Day, we would say our Novena to St. Nicholas. On the ninth day, St. Nicholas Feast Day, my mother would let us have a party and we would write on a piece of paper what we were asking St. Nicholas for in our Novena. My mother would then have us place our petitions in an old pot which she would then take out back and we could watch from the window while they burned. One year one of my younger brothers said, "I know you peek and see what we wrote." My mother said, "Danny, you can come outside and I will let you burn our petitions." Of course, as we become parents, we know how my mother and father knew what we were asking for—all they had to do was to listen to our conversation with each other and with our friends. The best time was Christmas night. Company was gone, my sister Ann and I had all the good dishes put away and everything picked up, we would put out the lights and just leave the Christmas Tree and Stable lit. It was so peaceful. My mother would always say "Thank you St. Nicholas" and remind all of us how thankful we should be to have made our novena to St. Nicholas.
—Jane Patterson, Taylor, Michigan
Nicholas, symbol for charity
I think that Saint Nicholas' Day became my new favorite tradition this year. I'd only done simple preps. I had the older boys read a short history article on him. They set out their shoes when we came home Tuesday night. And Wednesday morning I plunked a chocolate santa into each boy's' shoe.
But the great moment was when my five year old (who'd bought the santas with me) whispered, "Is Saint Nick real?" It was so refreshing to be able to whisper back, "Yes, he loved God and served the people around him." No having to lie about the toy peddler in red. When he asked, "Did he really give me this?" I could say, "No, I did, because I love you and to remember Saint Nicholas."
If you are looking for a break from a Santa who has become much more of a consumption pusher than a symbol of Christian charity and love, give Saint Nicholas a try.
—Sebastian, Percival Blakeney Academy homeschool
St. Nicholas Day
We give all our immediate family gifts on St. Nicholas Day. On St. Nicholas Eve we hang simple, homemade muslin stockings, to which we add an embroidered symbol each year. We remember the story of St. Nicholas and his gift of dowries to three young maidens. Then we play St. Nicholas for each other. We hang the stockings before bed, and everyone sneaks in to put gifts in each other's stockings. On St. Nicholas morning, my two-year-old was so excited about what he had wrapped to give to me that he walked right past the rocking horse we had set out for him to get my gifts and put them in my lap.
When possible, we share a common meal with others who also celebrate this way, followed by a visit from St. Nicholas himself. Complete with festive (borrowed) bishop's garb, St. Nicholas talks to the children, particularly emphasizing that he and God and their parents love them whether they "cry" or "pout," whether they're "good" or "bad." He then gives each of them a gold coin chocolate.
In the remaining weeks before Christmas, we try to emphasize how nice it was to receive gifts. Now we do the same for others, for this is what God does at Christmas. So we bake, sew, glue, and paste for grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends.
—Ed, Andrea, Nathanael and Rebekah Wills, Memphis, Tennessee, Simple Living Works!
St. Nicholas Orange Hunt
Instead of Easter eggs, hide oranges to remember St. Nicholas, who tossed gold, symbolized by oranges, to help the impoverished young women. He also provided grain during a famine. When the oranges have been found they could be donated to a food bank to help those in need as St. Nicholas did.
—adapted from Season's Greetings: Welcoming Christ Through the Traditions of Christmas by Stephenie Hovland, Creative Communications for the Parish