St. Nicholas in the Classroom

Dutch postcard
St. Nicholas Center Collection

Ideas FROM Teachers

Classroom Question

Author Anne Neuberger writes, "Recently I was speaking to a group of 4th, 5th and 6th graders in a small town. The principal asked me to show some of my books. When I held up the St. Nicholas book, I said that one reason I wrote it was to learn how St. Nicholas became Santa. Right away, a fourth-grader's hand shot up. 'Does that mean Santa's not real?' she asked. Not a teacher would meet my eye. And, not another kid snickered. I looked at her and said that it meant he was real, that he was a person that lived a long time ago whose spirit of love and giving was so strong that it has gone on for centuries since his death."
Anne Neuberger, St. Paul, Minnesota

Socks for St. Nicholas Day

St. Nicholas Day socks
Photo: Maria Manore
Used by permission
St. Nicholas always leaves treats in the shoes of children the night before St. Nicholas Day. Since my students don’t keep shoes at school, we hang “stockings” in the hall. I made a quick trip to the nearby dollar store and picked up a selection of Christmas-themed socks at a great price. These are hanging in the hallway and waiting for St. Nicholas to surprise us with a sweet treat. Each child selected a sock and labeled it with his/her name. The sticker labels allow me to use the same socks year after year.
Maria Manore, kinder-craze blogspot, St. Mary Catholic School, Mt. Clemens, Michigan

Doing for Others

After the St. Nicholas Day Mass, St. Nicholas gives each child a treat along with a writing pad, asking them to make a list of things to do for others.
Seton Catholic School, Rochester, New York

Nickels for St. Nicholas—focus on giving

Nickels for St. Nicholas
Photo: St. John Catholic School
Permission pending
In the three weeks before St. Nicholas Day, students in all grades collect nickels to give St. Nicholas to support area residents in need. They search backpacks, pockets, and furniture. They dig into piggy banks and ask family and friends to contribute, too. An 8th grade student is selected to be St. Nicholas. Together with assistants, he travels through the school, ringing a bell and asking for donations of nickels. When all classes have been visited, the large basket overflows with thousands of nickels. "Nickels for St. Nicholas" is one of the school's most popular activities.
St. John Catholic School, Westminster, Maryland

In the Spirit of St. Nicholas—A Gift Project for 3rd–6th graders

A student packs a gift box
Photo: Dick Riniker
La Crosse Tribune
Permission pending
Students and teachers organized special projects to raise funds to purchase shoes, boots, hats and gloves to be distributed through a Catholic Worker House that offers hospitality and meals to all who come. "The kids need to know how to serve their community, and starting now is important," said the principal. "The saints always saw concern for someone else. This teaches the children that we all have plenty and we need to have concern for someone else." Children donated allowance and chore money as well as doing special fund-raising activities. Sixth graders purchased the shoes and boots for needy children. Students prepared gift boxes, packing the new items inside. As one student said, "It felt good knowing I did something good for another person."
Blessed Sacrament Elementary School, La Crosse, Wisconsin

Doing Good Deeds in Secret

Read or tell about Saint Nicholas and discuss doing good deeds in secret. Encourage children to think of examples at school and at home. Discuss how these secret deeds make both the doer and the recipient feel. Hang a stocking next to a container with paper "gold coins." Every time a child does a secret good deed, a gold coin is put into the stocking. The coins may be either blank, or a short phrase may be written on the coin. Deeds may be counted and reported to the class each day or week.
—adapted from Ellen Nibali, author of The Secret of St. Nicholas, West Friendship, Maryland

Eighth Graders host St. Nick Day for younger classes

The eighth grade class buys St. Nicholas items (stickers, prayer cards, bookmarks, napkins and sometimes buttons) and candy to fill bags. All the younger classes (pre-K through 7th grade) put their shoes out in the hall. The 8th graders very quietly fill their shoes. It is fun for everyone and the look on the little kids faces is priceless.
Michelle Lewandowski, Our Lady of Mercy School, East Greenwich, Rhode Island

Project Saint Nick: support for troops

Beginning on St. Nicholas Day, fifth graders wrote to the airman son of one of their teachers and they also collected items to send as care packages along with an American flag. The airman visited the school when home on leave.
St. Margaret School, Mattydale, New York

St. Nicholas Tea

The school children invite a guest to the tea—the guest is to bring an unwrapped gift. During the tea (and St. Nicholas cookies could be served) St. Nicholas makes a visit, telling about himself and having simple treats for the children, St. Nicholas stickers and bookmarks. Following his visit, the guest and child wrap the unwrapped gift so it is ready to be distributed by local Catholic charities.
St. Joseph Catholic School Ost, Mt. Hope, Kansas

Shoe Treats for Others

It is the tradition at St. Kateri for children spread St. Nicholas' message of service to those in need, by bringing supplies and toys for children in foster care on St. Nicholas Day. They put the items in one of their shoes left outside their classrooms. St. Nicholas comes along and collects the donations, leaving a small treat in each shoe.
St. Kateri School, Irondequoit, New York

Shoe Polishing in Preparation for St. Nicholas

About one week before St. Nicholas Day, children bring from home a leather shoe (any size or style) that needs polishing. Tables are covered with old sheets, and shoe polish, brushes and cloths are ready. During free play, the children (sleeves rolled up and aprons on) polish away until a lovely shine appears. Some work vigorously for several days on the shoe. On the eve of St. Nicholas Day, we set the empty shoes all in a row. Then, wonder of wonders, on the morning of the visit children discover them filled with golden nuts and polished stones.
—Deborah Elam Sidhu, Pasadena Waldorf School, Altadena, California

Sweet Treats Shared at School and Beyond

For all of my childhood, as far back as I can remember, there was one particular day in December that I would receive an amazing morning surprise, The Feast of St. Nicholas. After I would awaken and open my bedroom door, much to my joy, I would find my shoes filled with delicious sweet treats. Each year I would try to memorize the date, December 6th, so that I could look forward to it for the next year. But, I never could keep it straight, so St. Nick surprised me year after year and I loved it. My glee was made even more complete when I would arrive to school to realize that this candy in the shoes tradition was special and was not practiced in most houses. Talk about a day that put a skip in my walk and a song in my heart!

So now, I proudly continue the tradition. This morning when my students open their lockers, they will find some "gold coins" and a candy cane- not a lot- just enough to sweeten the day. And last night? My husband and I drove to my goddaughter's house for the 7th year in a row and left some small surprises and "gold coins" on the doorstep of her home. We did the same at my parents' house. Equally important is the fact that to this day, St. Nick still seems to manage a delivery of treats to my home as well.

The fun of St. Nicholas Day is that no one expects anything, so every little gesture is a delightful surprise. It's a great feeling to do something for others when you know it is most likely going to leave them just a wee bit giddy for the remainder of the day. If I were in charge of the world, everyone would celebrate it.
—Laura Graham Fetters, Catholic Teacher Musings

St. Nicholas Party for Language Classes

 A St. Nicholas party provides an opportunity to both practice language skills and learn about culture. In one Romanian school, students in three classes prepared a party for other students. Activities included St. Nicholas portrayals by costumed students acting and speaking like the saint, short student-prepared PowerPoint presentations, a St. Nicholas quiz, St. Nicholas—a Melodrama, St. Nicholas songs; and treats. Students took responsibility for invitations to other teachers and classes, preparing and decorating the room, and most of the other activities. English was used for the entire event.
—Dana Gavrila, Emil Racovita School, Onesti, Romania

Project Saint Nick

On St. Nicholas Day the children began Project Saint Nick, collecting items to send to soldiers in Iraq, where one of the teacher's sons was serving. The children wrote to soldiers in his regiment and sent packages. "Everyone was in shock," the soldier reported, "It was like Christmas. . . ."
St. Margaret Elementary School, Mattydale, New York

Preschool Plan

I do a lesson on St. Nicholas. We make slippers to send home to put out the eve of St. Nicholas Day, we do a color page of St. Nicholas, and we do a prayer service.
—Jerilynne Welch, Our Lady of Grace School, Noblesville, Indiana

Daycare Visit

St Nicholas comes to visit the children during their nap-time. Before we lay down, we place a carrot and a sugar cube in each of the children's shoes for his donkey and place a gingerbread cookie on the table for him. When the children wake up, they find the cookie, carrot and sugar cube gone, and their shoe filled with little goodies. The children are aged 6 weeks through 4 years old, and they all love this tradition.
—Bonnie Diersing, Kidz Korner Learning Academy, Bardstown, Kentucky

Giving in Secret—special project for St. Nicholas' Feast Day

Our "little buddies," the kindergartners and first-graders, put their shoes in the hallway and at rest time the "big buddies," the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders, filled the shoes with chocolate coins, peppermint and Christmas pencils.
—Janet Jensen, principal, St. Ann Catholic School, Decatur, Alabama

Empty Stocking Project

To help children learn to give instead of always receiving, St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica School students contribute to the Enterprise Empty Stocking Fund as a way to give back to the community. Notes go home the Thursday before Thanksgiving and students bring toys over the next two weeks. At the St. Nicholas Mass, students bring their toys to the altar and the gifts and the givers are blessed. The toys are distributed by the Enterprise Empty Stocking Fund in Southeast Texas. Students live out the spirit of St. Nicholas, remembering those in need, helping St. Nicholas make sure there are no empty stockings. (St. Nicholas does still put candy in students' shoes left outside their classrooms.)
St. Anthony Cathedral School, Beaumont, Texas

St. Nicholas & First Grade Activities

We used the PowerPoint presentation, Now We Call Him Santa Claus in my son's first grade class. we used many things (coloring project, Magic Dust, matching activity) from in the classroom and the kids loved it! They all brought an extra pair of shoes to school last week. Before leaving school yesterday, we did the St. Nicholas sprinkling of the magic dust and recitation "Welcome St. Nicholas!" ritual . . . and St. Nick found our classroom and left treats last night! It works! The teachers want to save all the materials and use it again next year!
—Cheryl Martinelli

A Special Celebration

Children wearing cozy "St Nicholas slippers"

Sixth grade elves come to the school on the evening of December 5 to decorate for the Festival of St. Nicholas and Christmas. On the morning of December 6, arriving students find the school transformed with Christmas ornaments, trees, wreaths, and especially, gifts from St. Nicholas. These gifts are in shoes children brought earlier in the week. The principal Barbara Cole has traditionally knit slippers for all the sixth graders. Since she was retiring in 2017 whe made about 400 slippers for every child, all the staff, and parent volunteers, as special gifts from St. Nicholas. Many students wore their colorful, cozy, toasty warm slippers the rest of the day.
St. John Neumann Catholic School, Columbia, South Carolina

Have St. Nicholas Visit

"In the week around St. Nicholas Day, December 6th, I've visited 6-8 classrooms in two upstate New York school districts. First I talk about St. Nicholas, using a bit of Dutch history with older classes, and his transformation (deformation) to Santa Claus in our culture. Then I get into character and costume in front of the group and tell the story of St. Nicholas and the three young women."
—The Rev. Daniel Carlson, The Reformed Churches of Thompson's Lake & Knox, New York

School Boy Bishop

"I went into the Eastchurch School (Church of England) prior to St Nicholas Day and spoke about Nicholas and boy bishop ceremonies. The children in each class elected a candidate with the best all-around qualities to become the school bishop. The Boy Bishop was chosen from these. He led the whole school to the church for a special St. Nicholas festival service on the eve of the saint's day, 5 December. The Boy Bishop toured every classroom and the staff room. He also had a lead role in the school's carol service."
—Father Francis Searle, Parish Church of All Saints Eastchurch, East Sheppey, Kent, UK

Santa and Jesus

If you are concerned about your child focusing more on Santa Claus than on Jesus, here is a solution that worked for us. There are a number of books that talk about St. Nicholas and the transformation to Santa Claus. They also discuss the devotion of St. Nicholas to the Baby Jesus. Celebrating the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6, you can start by bringing together the elements of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus, incorporating the Baby Jesus into the mix. There are a number of figurines that show Santa Claus kneeling before the Baby Jesus. the commercial image of Santa Claus will always be out there. By using these ideas, we've been able to align the image of Santa with a devotion to the Baby Jesus.
—Doris Anne Mercer, from Tips for Teachers and Parents, GLEA
Secretariat for Education, Department for Persons with Disabilities, Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh

Ideas especially FOR teachers

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