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The Joy and Traditions of Saint Nicholas Day - Jennifer Elia

The Joy and Traditions of Saint Nicholas Day


Tired of all the hub-bub about Santa deciding who is naughty and nice? Jennifer Elia suggests the alternative of celebrating St. Nicholas, the real Santa!

Advent is a busy time of year, but also one filled with so many beautiful feasts on the liturgical calendar.

We celebrate many of these feasts, however, one of our all time favorite Advent traditions is St. Nicholas Day. Here’s how to add some special joy to your early December.

1. Will The Real Santa Please Stand Up?

Once Halloween has passed, our culture’s obsession with Santa resurfaces. November and December are so focused on Santa–the commercial version of a Jolly Old Elf who can make children’s wildest dreams come true—who exists to bring piles of gifts and is watching you all the time to ensure you are being nice and not naughty, for the sole purpose of getting more presents.

A never-ending list of ideas, accessories, and must do’s put pressure on parents to create ever increasing levels of magic within their homes.

Letters to Santa, Breakfast with Santa, Santa cams, elves who spy for Santa, phone calls, kits to leave “evidence,” and endless commercials encouraging kids to make long lists for Christmas lead to greedy children and exasperated parents.

However, there is a real Santa, St. Nicholas, in Heaven, who can not only teach us the true meaning of Christmas, but also how to live better throughout the year.

My family has always celebrated St. Nicholas. We haven’t visited “Santa” at the mall or jumped onto all the latest trends to convince children that Santa Claus is real. My children know he is, and they use the names Santa and St. Nicholas interchangeably as we have taught them that Santa is just a nickname.

We read books about St. Nicholas, recounting his story on his feast day each year. We have some nice videos that retell the true story of St. Nicholas. Our emphasis is always on how he served Christ by giving to others, and the beautiful fruit of his selfless gifts.

So my children know that they will not be greeted on Christmas morning by piles of presents. The sky is not the limit on the Christmas gift dreams. The gifts come from Mom and Dad out of love. The children’s love for St. Nicholas is not for what he can do for them, but what he has done for others and how he loved God so well.

2. The Joy of a Simple Gift

Much of our modern traditions are focused on gifts for every special occasion. For St. Nicholas Day, there is also a tradition of gifts. However, in our family, we give smaller gifts on St. Nicholas Day.

The night before, the children leave their favorite shoes on the hearth. (In our old house we had no fireplace, so they just left them on the bow windowsill) In the morning, they race out to find their shoes filled with goodies. Our usual collection of treats includes something fun that costs $1-$3, an orange, a candy cane, and a small piece of chocolate.

An orange symbolizes the sack of money St. Nicholas dropped into the poor girls’ stockings. The candy cane reminds us of St. Nicholas’ shepherd’s crook. My children are more excited about these little trinkets than their gifts on Christmas, and it sets the tone for appreciating the simple things and rejoicing in the sweetness of the season.

Here are some ideas of what to include:

  • A favorite fruit (My kids often request pomegranates.)
  • Stickers
  • Christmas themed pencils
  • Lip balm
  • A favorite snack
  • A spinning top
  • A yo-yo
  • Holy cards
  • Handpainted peg doll
  • Silly Putty (C)
  • Glitter glue
  • A Matchbox(C) car
  • Chocolate coins
  • Playing cards
  • Rosary ring
  • Gum
  • Activity pad
  • Balsa wood glider
  • Hair accessories
  • Small puzzle
  • Anything that can fit in a shoe and costs less than $3

3. The Joy of Giving

In addition to their little gifts, together they receive something to give that is worth $50-$100. Sometimes, it is something to physically give away, like toys or clothes. However, the past few years, they have received cash to spend on a charitable gift.

So, while their peers are drooling over toy catalogs and making wishlists, my children are pouring over catalogs of small animals, wells, meals, and small toys for the poorest individuals the world. (To be honest, every other catalog finds its way from the mailbox to the recycling bin.)

They spend the rest of Advent deciding how to spend their money and always strive to give the most, often contributing their own funds to make up the difference. This is a group effort, so there is always a degree of negotiation that takes place.

This year, my son created a wishlist of what he wants to give. He found ways in November to save up the money needed. When the Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision catalogs arrive, there is a flurry of excitement. Everyone wants to look through and start planning. Paper, pencils, and calculators come out.

Time is spent counting the money they have saved, and I often hear sayings like, “If I only had a thousand dollars, I could buy a _______. That would be awesome!” That’s the Christmas wishing that makes my heart smile.

4. The Joy of Crafting Gifts

Saint Nicholas Day is one of those big days each year. My kids count the days until it arrives. School goes out the window for the day. However, the reason for stopping school isn’t what you think. Instead of doing school work, all the children spend their time designing and crafting little gifts for friends and families. Our biggest focus is on what we can give away!

In years past, I purchased craft kits to make. Then, one year, I didn’t have enough money to buy any kits. However, that didn’t stop the Christmas gift workshop from opening. The kids just used what they had and made do. It was actually the best crafting day we ever had. Ever since then, we do a mix of kits and individually inspired projects.

It is always interesting to see what everyone creates. The gifts aren’t much, but they are appreciated by everyone who receives one. My children spend Advent eagerly anticipating the moment they can give away all their gifts, instead of obsessing over what they will be getting.

5. The Joy of Traditions

Over the years, we have developed many traditions that govern our day. None are elaborate, but they set a rhythm of familiarity we anticipate. It also makes planning our celebration easier. We have the same meals every year, although sometimes simpler or more elaborate depending on the finances that year.

Our traditional menu includes Candy Cane Danish and hot chocolate for breakfast, St. Nicolas Pizza for lunch, and Fruited Pork or Cranberry Chicken with glazed carrots, baked sweet potatoes, and fruit salad for dinner. The focus on the sweet is to remind us of the sweetness of giving. The side dishes for dinner are symbolic. The carrots represent coins, the sweet potatoes sacks, and the fruit salad the spiritual fruit that comes from serving others.

After supper, we craft small graham cracker houses we use as decoration and treats for other special feast days. Since Advent is a time of preparation, we try to fast between the feasts.

Also, we bless the candy canes and oranges (usually, we use clementines) that sit in a bowl in the middle of our table throughout Advent.

Best of all, we have many laughs and make precious memories, which are the best gifts of all!

Do you have any St. Nicholas Day traditions?

About Jennifer Elia

Jennifer Elia
Jennifer is a homeschooling mom of four with three tiny saints in Heaven. She is married to her high school sweetheart and together they are striving to keep their family headed for Heaven.

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