The tradition of Saint Nicholas Day, being celebrated on Thursday, Dec. 6, is a festival for children in many countries in Europe related to surviving legends of the saint, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts.
The American Santa Claus, as well as the Anglo-Canadian and British Father Christmas, derive from these legends. “Santa Claus” is itself derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas.
Traditionally, in the weeks between his arrival and Dec. 6, before going to bed, children put their shoes next to the fireplace chimney of the coal-fired stove or fireplace.
In modern times, they may put them next to the central heating unit. They leave the shoe with a carrot or some hay in it and a bowl of water nearby “for Sinterklaas’ horse,” and the children sing a Sinterklaas song.
The next day they will find some candy or a small present in their shoes.
Typical Sinterklaas treats can traditionally include hot chocolate, mandarin oranges, letter-shaped pastry filled with almond paste or chocolate letter (the first letter of the child’s name made out of chocolate), chocolate coins and marzipan figures.
Newer treats include a figurine of Sinterklaas made of chocolate and wrapped in colored aluminum foil.
Sounds a little familiar.
Even though Americans celebrate the arrival of Santa Claus on Dec. 25, there is something to be said about celebrating this day as well.
A simple St. Nicholas Day celebration adds a bit of welcome festivity in the early days of Advent.
It provides an opportunity to tell the story of St. Nicholas, a man of faith whose goodness and generosity grew out of his love for God.
It enriches our understanding of Santa Claus by showing the real historical person who inspired the familiar legend and traditions.
So tell a story of St. Nicholas’ generous example of giving in secret to those in need.
Then encourage children to identify a kindly “Nicholas deed” to do for someone else.
Is there someone in your neighborhood who will need their snow removed from their sidewalk? Is there someone who you know needs food to eat? How about leaving a bag of food on their doorknob or porch.
Is there someone who needs a hot meal and a listening hear because they have no one?
Keep in mind, you need to perform your “Nicholas deed” in private or it’s not in the spirit of St. Nicholas.
Have your children fill their shoes with pieces of carrot or bits of hay for his white horse or donkey. Place shoes outside bedroom doors or on the hearth. See that a candy treat and simple gift appears by morning on Dec. 6.
Have a party.
The Dutch give simple gifts accompanied with elaborate riddles and/or wrapped in fantastically deceiving ways, such as a pen inside a hollowed out carrot or something small nested inside multiple boxes and wrappings.
The Advent season can be a time of giving to others who are in need, whether it be for a physical need or for something else.
Take advantage of St. Nicholas Day; be the example that there is more to giving than receiving.