Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Feast of St. Nicholas

We are all trying hard not to get sucked into the commercialism of Christmas that has been surrounding us since August, but it bears mentioning that Advent is just around the corner and we as mothers have a unique opportunity to establish special family traditions that orient ourselves and our children towards the cradle on Christmas Day.

It is not too early to start planning a few ways to make the meaning of the season come alive for your little ones. We love St. Nicholas in the Incredible household and we have celebrated his feast for several years. He is the patron saint of children, among many other things. We will be out of town this year for the Feast of St. Nicholas (on Saturday, December 6th), so I have been planning how to keep our traditions going away from home. We enjoy teaching our children about the real Santa Claus and encouraging them to demonstrate brotherly love.

If you want to order cookie cutters or prayer cards, now is the time! The St. Nicholas Center is a veritable treasure trove of information, stories, games, coloring pages, supplies, and ideas for all ages. Take a few minutes to click around and pick an activity that you think will connect with your children.

As with most things in the Incredible house, food is a very important part of celebrating. There are great recipes for traditional spiced gingerbread cookies and ideas for decorating them. Even if you can't afford the neat cookie cutters, you can use a knife and a little icing to turn them into St. Nicholas.

Another great source of ideas are the archives at O Night Divine. Here are book suggestions, and here are other ideas for celebrating his feast day.

With MaryAlice's encouragement to get ready and think ahead to make this time of year less stressful, take a few minutes to put some St. Nicholas and Advent books on hold at your library and make sure you have the ingredients for gingerbread in your pantry as we begin to prepare for this special time of year!


Mary Alice said...

Thanks for the links, I am hoping to do better than leftover Halloween candy in their shoes this year! Usually I am not that lame of a mom, but this time last year I was nine months pregnant...uh...let's just say I have finally realized that I can't keep using that as an excuse for everything!

When we lived in Virginia we had a wonderful St. nicholas Eve party at our church with stories for the kids, a cookie swap and a special appearance by St. Nicholas at the end. We made coloring books for all the kids, many of the pages came from the St. Nicholas Center, so I am going to try to recreate that this year.

One of my favorite children's books of all time, which is not really about St. Nicholas himself, is The Miracle of St. Nicholas, where a Russian community comes together to re-open their church. We have loved this book and the conversations it starts -- about freedom of religion, about the gift of a priest in your community, about the Eucharist.

Kat said...

I also love the image of the "kneeling Santa," and this link is for a very nice book that we have read with Christopher:

Also, there is a great movie about St. Nicholas put out by the Catholic Company:

Our church's library has both of these items - maybe yours does, too!

Gail said...

Can I just ask, how do you builders (and other readers) handle Santa Claus with your kids? I'm very torn. I'd be happy with the St. Nicholas explanation, and no, there isn't a real Santa Claus coming down the chimney on Christmas Eve. But my mom thinks that's horrible of me to deprive my kids of the joy of believing in Santa. (My Jewish husband couldn't care less.)

Maria said...


We are trying a mixed approach since my husband and I are from large families who had different takes on the Santa issue. We figure that our kids will have lots of cousins and we want them to be able to understand and appreciate both sides of the issue.

Anyway, we focus on St. Nicholas, who I tell the kids is now called Santa Claus. I explain that he is Jesus' special friend, like all the saints, and so he delivers presents from Baby Jesus to children on Jesus' birthday. We tell the kids that Jesus gives presents on His birthday, instead of just getting gifts, and that His greatest present is the gift of Himself. Also, I'm trying to limit the gifts to just three, since Jesus received three from the Magi. Also, we referred to the candles in the Advent wreath as Jesus' birthday candles - when they were all lit it meant that Jesus' birthday had arrived.

It worked very well last year (the first year any of my children were old enough to understand anything). I felt the focus was on the birth of Christ, but that we had integrated Santa into the celebration in a positive way.

Jo said...

I am from Belgium, where St. Nicholas is a very popular feast (at least used to be) and where Santa Claus has only become a big figure recently. I really like the way my parents handled it. St. Nicholas was our feast: candies, gifts and all. We could then be kids, believe in an old man coming to our house to give us presents and let our imagination soar. The focus was on us. On Christmas, the accent was put on baby Jesus. He would bring us a couple of symbolic gifts on Christmas eve and we would give each other gifts because love spreads and wants to share. I never had problems with other kids who believed in Santa. My parents explained that St. Nicholas had different names and that he came to different families on different days, which made sense to us. Maria, I really like the idea of telling the kids about St. Nicholas being Jesus' friend. I hope I will be able to pass these traditions down to my children. My husband and I agree (which helps a lot) and we won't let extended family dictate our family traditions. At least that's the plan! By the way, I'm not sure how to find them, but there are great St. Nicholas songs out there too!

Gail said...

Thanks Maria and Jo for your great ideas!

Erin said...

I am a little late to this post, but my husband and I have been torn about Santa Claus for a while now, and these ideas about St. Nicholas are wonderful! My parents and in-laws think we are torturing our son by not telling him about santa. But a) we don't want the focus of christmas to be presents from Santa, and b) we don't want to lie to our son. I know it is just a "fun" lie, but I still don't think i can do it. St. Nicholas traditions offer a great alternative. thanks for the ideas!

megan said...

For what its worth we don't do Santa. I feel like everything else around my kids is so Santa, Santa, Santa it is all I can do to sort of focus the season on the biggest birthday party ever!!! They get three presents just like baby Jesus did (you know from the 3 kings!). When they ask about Santa stuff I just try to have them figure it out- "do you think reindeer fly?" etc. I also tell them that Santa Claus, who comes from the real St. Nick, represents the spirit of giving.

Mary Alice said...

I have to admit that I was reluctant to do Santa at first, but changed my mind when I re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the book, when Father Christmas comes to bring gifts it is one of the first signs that the thaw is coming, that the long winter reign of the White Witch is coming to an end. He also gives each of the children a gift that will ultimately help them in the final battle between good and evil.

This reminded me that Santa Claus, in whatever form, is a celebration of Christmas. A long winter without Christmas makes me think of communist Russia, so I try to understand that the fact that Santa is in the mall actually means that we are a nation that is still celebrating Christmas, even if many have lost the true meaning.

I read a reflection on Halloween encouraging that we can really be neighbors to one another, and therefore do a better work in sharing the Good News, if we can joyfully participate in what is not harmful about our cultural traditions. This evangelical author had decided to embrace Halloween, carefully steering away from the occult or anything smutty, but being glad in the chance to have fun with her neighbors and their children. I think that many Christmas traditions can work the same way.

Not to sound silly, but another book that impacted me on this was How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Many of us will celebrate Christmas with family and friends who are not Catholic, or perhaps not even Christian, but we will build fellowship and memories and be Christ's love to those people, and perhaps over time God will use the secular traditions of Christmas to bring them to the Christ.

Christmas was a joyful and exciting time for me and my family as a child, Santa was one part of that, but a large part were also the carolling bells that wound up the banister on my aunts staircase, which were just as magical to me. I figured it all out pretty quickly but I could understand it as a fun game and I did not feel at all betrayed or decieved, nor did my parents' playing Santa at all undermine my belief in the truth of Christ that they passed on to me.

Even as a kid, I thought the Easter Bunny was kind of a stupid idea, though...but we did have awesome, beautiful easter baskets and I loved those.