December 6, 2016

Celebrating St. Nicholas

Our kids are fishing chocolate coins and nuts out of their stinky sneakers. St. Nicholas visited last night, and this morning they rushed to the fireplace to see the treats left by their favorite saint.

Neither my husband nor I grew up with a St. Nicholas tradition. But when our children were born, we wanted to find a way to connect Santa Claus with the church, the receiving of gifts with generosity of spirit. St. Nicholas has been a good way to do that.

As you know, Nicholas was a bishop in the church in the fourth century in Asia Minor. As legends are want to do, stories surrounding Nicholas range from relatively benign and kind to a radical soul who saved girls from a life of prostitution, sailors from certain death, and children from being slaughtered and sold as ham. (I told you the legends got a little out of hand). What is not in dispute is the spirit of Nicholas – the desire to help others less fortunate, to provide a calm presence in the storm.

At our house, St. Nicholas brings traditional gifts of coins (chocolate!), nuts, and fruit (this year, oranges). Sometimes we add a couple of small items; this year, they received a warm hat and fuzzy socks. Each child also receives a special ornament, something that reflects their lives and current interests. Over the years, these ornaments have featured Thomas the Tank Engine, Disney princesses, ice skating, pirates, and horses. This year, a calico cat made its way to the tennis shoe to honor Winnie, a stray my son adopted on Easter (side note: We discovered she was pregnant soon after the adoption. We now have three cats). And our daughter received an English riding boot ornament to symbolize her passion for riding and showing horses – and for her volunteer work helping children with autism and Down syndrome learn how to ride and take care of horses.

In a few weeks, Santa will still leave a pile of toys at our house (maybe for the last time. Our children, sniff, sniff, are growing up). St. Nicholas doesn’t replace Santa but I hope our small celebration today gives context and meaning to the giving and receiving of gifts. It is perhaps not insignificant that they are just as excited on the morning of St. Nicholas to see what ornament will land in their shoes as they are on Christmas morning. Maybe they are grasping what we hoped to teach: that gifts, regardless of size, given and received in love are prized possessions indeed.