Tips for a St. Nicholas
- Know St. Nicholas' history, stories and legends.
Really know the stories—know where Nicholas is from and other facts!
- When in costume always stay in character: you are St. Nicholas, not YOU. So, no smoking, gum chewing, eating (breath mints and the occasional cookie are excepted), or drinking, except water (just think of the beard!).
Really take on the character!
- Respect children at all times.
Be fully present with each child—for that time the child is the most important person in the world.
- As loud "ho, ho, ho's" may scare small children, one former educator uses high fives instead. "Ho, ho, ho's" originated with Santa, not St. Nicholas.
- When holding or touching children keep both hands visible at all times; do not straighten child's clothing; this is for your protection as well as the child's
- Look for ways to be thoughtful and generous—like St. Nicholas.
- Have the best costume you can. If you really look like a St. Nicholas, you'll feel like one and have the confidence to act like one.
- Make sure the costume is clean and freshly pressed.
- Have several pairs of gloves—they protect your hands.
- The beard is especially important—and challenging. Get as good a one as you can afford, it will serve well and not need frequent replacing. Keep it really clean and white around the mouth.
- Remember to smile—it makes eyes crinkly and friendly-looking.
- White eyebrows draw attention to eyes and complement the beard (temporary white hair color is available from costume shops in small bottles).
- St. Nicholas brings joy—visit places that need a bit of joy—hospitals, nursing homes, etc..
- Remember St. Nicholas is a kind older man: he moves deliberately, uses broad gestures, reacts quietly and speaks cautiously. He doesn't run about and chatter.
- St. Nicholas doesn't need extra padding—his customary appearance is actually rather tall and straight.
- Focus on the child; St. Nicholas is not a one-man-show. If children sing, applaud and thank them. Make good eye contact and really give attention to each child in turn.
- Talk to everyone at their eye level: squat down for children, stand up for adults.
- Keep remarks appropriate to the group. The larger the group, the shorter the remarks. Using props works well with small to mid-size groups and helps hold people's attention, allowing for somewhat more detailed presentations. Don't try to cram too much in.
- Use appropriate transportation. St. Nicholas should ride a horse only if he knows how (it is not good to fall!)
- Open carts, coaches, wagons, or convertibles work well for parades and processions. If arriving publicly in a regular car, figure out how to manage the miter without knocking it off. A crozier that is all one piece may be a challenge, also.
- If in streets or a market or other informal location, have a small bag with miniature, individually wrapped candy canes, prayer cards, etc. to give passersby (a helper is good to have).
- If children are receiving wrapped packages, distribute all of them, sing a song together, then count to three so all packages are opened at the same time.
- If working with adult assistants, have a clear plan as to just what they will do.
- "Everyone is a child of God." A good reminder for adults as well as children.
- Pick up a child's cues; they are walking billboards, so keep your eyes open.
- Don't say the same thing to each child; you're being watched by others waiting, families and anyone near.
- Do not make promises.
- If a child tells you what he/she wants for Christmas, repeat it so the parent can hear.
- When children ask difficult questions, such as, "I want my Daddy or Mommy to come back," reflect on what's been said and offer to pray for them (if you will).
- Children need to feel accepted, not judged; give each child a sense of love and acceptance, that each is more than good enough to be loved and cherished.
- Really LOOK at and LISTEN to each child, at the moment each child is the most important person to you.
- You may want to say, "I'm not the real St. Nicholas—he lived a long, long time ago. I do represent him, and you can represent him, too."
- For a change of emphasis, ask children what they are going to give or what they will do for someone else this Christmas. Giving is the true spirit of Christmas (and St. Nicholas, of course). Encourage intrinsic gifts, too, such as "Christmas hugs."
- Another question, ask how they want Christmas to be special this year.
- St. Nicholas is a friend, don't ask embarrassing questions.
- Remember the fundamental difference between the secular Santa Claus and St. Nicholas is that Nicholas' acts of kindness were without expectation or conditions. Nicholas offers grace and acceptance, not judgment with gifts only to "good little girls and boys." St. Nicholas' gifts are not conditional. They are not earned, rather just because someone cares.
- If possible, call children by name. Plan how this will be done. Perhaps they will be wearing name tags. Or the helpers may be able to help with names.
Be sensitive to the protocols of various Christian traditions. If you aren't an ordained person it is often wise to use "us" and "we" language, rather than "you." Some might think because "St. Nicholas" is giving the blessing that is okay; others could take offense. So, be aware of where you are and ask beforehand if blessings are part of your presence.
Legal and Other Matters
If making professional appearances, consider these things.
- Contract should make clear who does what; what you will do, what others will do, and who provides what
- Hosts are responsible for treats, gifts and other handouts
- Have appropriate insurance
- Obtain criminal background check certification
Research • Rehearse • Pay attention • Keep learning!
Above all, remember St. Nicholas is a very kind, caring person who is every child's friend. He is always in character.
Video: St. Nicholas Visit at Grace St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Tucson, Arizona, December 6, 2015
These tips have been adapted from many sources, just a bit here and another, there. Suggestions are welcome, please send.