When our first child was still a wee one, my husband and I got into thinking about how we wanted to deal with Santa. Should we just let her (and future children) ride on the Santa bandwagon with secret gifts in stockings, or should we find a greater meaning beneath the marketing ploy and season frenzy?
Through the years, we’ve managed to start meaningful Christmas family traditions. One of these involves celebrating the feast day of St. Nicholas – the main inspiration for Santa Claus – on December 6.
St. Nicholas, far from the ho! ho! ho! -ing jolly, bearded man, was a third-century bishop born to a wealthy family. When his parents died, he used his inheritance to help the poor and sick.
Through the years, stories about him and his good deeds grew and made him beloved by all. However, the saint, in the 19th and 20th centuries, slowly got a “makeover” that made him hardly recognizable. This link at St. Nicholas Center tells the fascinating story of how St. Nicholas became a commercial icon.
Getting To Know St. Nicholas
Celebrating the feast day of St. Nicholas has been part of our Advent traditions. Here are some of the ways we’ve celebrated through the years…
Read stories about St. Nicholas
It’s not easy to find books about St. Nicholas. At first, I would read stories from websites and just retell my children the stories. Eventually, I found a copy of “The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale”, which is about a St. Nicholas legend. Good enough.
But imagine our delight to have found “The Story of St. Nicholas: More Than Reindeer and a Red Suit.” A picture book about the life of Saint Nicholas, it features some of the well-known stories about his kindness and generosity that inspired many Saint Nicholas Day traditions across numerous countries in the world. It’s a beautiful and useful introduction to “the real” Santa Claus.
We have several copies of the book and you may order from our bookshop. Click here.
We’ve watched videos about St. Nicholas at one point or another. Here are some short clips you can start with:
- The Story of Saint Nicholas: The Real Santa Claus
- The Story of Saint Nicholas (for children)
- Saint Nicholas of Myra
You can also check out this trailer of a movie called Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa. The actual video is available at St. Paul’s Bookstore branches.
Start a St. Nicholas Day tradition
Inspired by the posts of our friend Tina from Truly Rich and Blessed about St. Nicholas Day traditions, we’ve also surprised our kids with chocolate coins and other treats in their slippers!
This tradition was inspired by one of the legends about St. Nicholas in which he tossed sacks filled with gold coins to three poor maidens. The women were too poor to have dowries and the kind bishop was too modest to give his gift outright!
I also took the time some years ago to print and laminate several St. Nicholas games from Saint Nicholas Center which we play on the saint’s feast day.
This year, though, we’re excited to have our very own St. Nicholas wooden doll for some pretend play and story telling!
Mommy Weena of Everything is Grace lovingly makes saints dolls with her own hands. She is making a limited number of St. Nicholas dolls available at The Learning Basket shop, along with some of her beautiful nativity sets. Weena suggests making an origami of St. Nicholas’ mitre (bishop’s hat).
A More Meaningful Advent
The Advent season has become more meaningful for us since having children. Not aspiring to give them the “best” gifts that we can afford, we instead strive to share with them the depth and beauty of the season.