As we establish our homes, we have the opportunity to keep, throw out or amend the traditions we were raised with. We also have the freedom to come up with new traditions! I’m so glad a friend gave me the book by Martha Zimmerman titled, “Celebrating the Christian Year”! Though the book is out of print, you can find it inexpensively from used book stores online. I have been able to locate many out of print books here. As you may guess, the book introduces many celebrations you may not have yet discovered.
One of the winter celebrations that Mrs. Zimmerman introduced to us was St. Nicholas day. For my entire childhood and early adult years I thought that St. Nick was just a different way to say Santa Claus and that he was completely fictitious. Mrs.Zimmerman’s book and some further research proved I was wrong.
Nicholas was a real man who lived around 280 A.D. in what is now Turkey. Though he was born to wealthy parents, he suffered great loss when he was orphaned at the age of 9. He was raised by a Christian uncle and came to an early faith in Christ. Throughout his years, Nicholas was a secret benefactor to people in need. He provided food, clothing, and toys for children who would otherwise go without. When he became aware of a family that could not afford the required dowry for their daughters, Nicholas secretly tossed gold coins in through the window. The coins landed in their stockings which were hanging by the window to dry. As you read that introduction to the real St.Nick, I’m sure you see some similarities to the one who we know now. What we seldom hear about is the motivation for his kind acts.
As he grew into adulthood, Nicholas learned the Holy Scriptures. Not only did he learn them but, he acted upon them. He was full of mercy and compassion for those less fortunate than he. The deeds that he performed in secret were finally revealed upon his death on Dec 6, 343 AD. He was a doer of the Word.
Challenges to be doers of the word:
- If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 1 John 3:17
- But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4
- For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Matthew 25:35-36
The nuts & bolts of how we celebrate:
Sightings of St. Nicholas happen in our home from the day after Thanksgiving until December 6th. When we add any St. Nicholas decor I attempt to keep it in the old world style to remind us of his humanity. On the anniversary of his death, during our family time, we read about the life and character of St.Nicholas. He was a real man who loved Jesus and wanted to obey Him. Nicholas cared for the needs of others as a reflection of his love for God.
The other way that we celebrate the life of St. Nicholas is by giving traditional St.Nicholas stockings. We start with a muslin stocking that I have made for each child. In the stocking we put chocolate coins to symbolize the coins that Nicholas tossed in the window for the young ladies that needed a dowry. We also add a piece of clothing (usually gloves or socks), a food item, a personal care item (lip balm, bubble bath, character band-aids), and a toy as those are some of the needs that Nicholas had repeatedly cared for. A traditional stocking would have a piece of fruit as the food item but since fruit is commonplace in our house, we substitute with a can of Pringles! (It is a big treat to have your OWN can of potato chips in a big family!)
Let’s not ruin the secret for other families!
Once you have introduced the real St. Nicholas to your children, make sure you let them know that not everyone knows the truth about him. I always try to be especially sensitive to other children as it is not my place (or my children’s) to correct their Santa Claus beliefs. However, when we are talking to adults I have given my children permission to share the truth. The story of St.Nick is fascinating and most grown ups don’t know the origins of it.
Cashiers at the store routinely ask all children, “What do you want Santa to bring you?” My children always looked around to make sure there weren’t any other children standing by. Then I would hear one say “Santa died a long time ago. But we already got lots of things in our St.Nicholas Day stockings!” It’s a perfect opportunity to talk about Jesus and how He prompts those who love him to care for the needs of those around them.
Looking at the life of St.Nick at the beginning of the Christmas season reminds us to focus on Christ. We have an opportunity to share with people how living out the Gospel among our community fulfills God’s call on our lives. So give generously, give secretly and share the moments with your children. I am thankful for the life of Nicholas as he not only impacted the world of his day but provides an example for us today.
If you would like to hear about another way our family celebrates this season, check out my post about “The Waiting Tree” here!