When my kids were growing up, we always celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6. Many countries around the world celebrate this day. In the United States, especially in areas where there is a strong German influence, you can find elaborate customs surrounding this day.
So who was St. Nicholas?
Beliefs surrounding him are a mix of fact and legend. He was born around the year 270 AD in Asia Minor, which is now Turkey and was known for his generosity and his defense of the poor and oppressed, especially children. The legends tell us he was born to a wealthy family and that his parents died when he was a young man. He gave away his inheritance and became a monk, and later a bishop. By the 1400’s he was considered to be the third most beloved religious figure of the time, after Jesus and Mary!
Many of the legends surrounding St. Nicholas included stories of him secretly leaving gold coins in the night for those in need. St. Nicholas evolved into a kindly man who challenged children to be good and help others, and who left them treats and gold coins on December 6. Many think that St. Nicholas was the original Santa Claus.
The holiday season can seem very long to children. Celebrating St. Nicholas Day with your family can provide fun activities, encourage giving, and break up that wait. Here are some ideas for developing your St. Nicholas Day traditions:
- Traditionally, shoes are placed on the hearth or by the bed on December 6. The children fill one shoe with carrots or hay for St. Nicholas’ donkey (or in one version of the legend, his white horse). In the morning, the shoes contain candy and gold coins. You can substitute gold wrapped chocolate coins.
- In my family’s tradition, St. Nicholas also left a small craft kit or activity to help fill the days until Christmas.
- Nicholas might also leave an ornament with religious significance that you can use in your Advent devotions.
- Talk with your children about things they have done in the past year to help others or to become a better person. Talk about things they would like to improve on in the next year.
- Do a “St. Nicholas Deed”. This is anything that helps someone. Take treats to your local fire or police station, help an elderly neighbor with a chore, choose a tag from one of Avera’s Giving Trees or other holiday charity, and purchase and deliver the item, collect change for the Salvation Army bell ringers and talk about their mission. The ideas are endless.
Whether all the stories of St. Nicholas are fact or legend, he inspires up to help others during this beautiful Christmas season. Find more ideas and information on St. Nicholas.