Our family first celebrated Saint Nicholas Day about twenty-five years ago. We gathered with a cherished circle of friends for a post-Thanksgiving meal that didn’t have anything to do – or so we thought – with Saint Nicholas. Our hostesses – two Franciscan sisters – gave each child a stocking filled with goodies. We sang carols, told stories, and laughed heartily. After repeating the celebration the following year, complete with stockings, it soon evolved into an annual tradition that began to fall around December 6th, feast of Saint Nicholas.
Over the years we added new traditions and dropped others as the children all grew up and ventured out onto their own. A couple of the rituals endured, however. We always share a meal, and we join together in prayer that includes a Saint Nicholas Day blessing.
Activities and prayers about Saint Nicholas always fostered discussions with students about helping those in need..,
Saint Nicholas of Myra is one of the most recognized saints in the world. He is honored as the patron saint of Greece and Russia. It is has been speculated that besides Mary, the Mother of God, Saint Nicholas’s image has been painted and drawn the most by Christian artists. Despite his popularity, we know almost nothing about Nicholas’s life.
We know Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, a city on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey. Traditional accounts say that Nicholas grew up as the only son of devoted Christian parents. His mother and father died when he was young, and Nicholas inherited a large fortune. He decided to use this money to help the many people he saw around him who were in need. He also decided to perform these acts of charity quietly, even secretly, and not to brag about them. According to early accounts, the Holy Spirit inspired the clergy and the people of Myra to appoint Nicholas as their bishop because of his goodness and acts of charity.
Legends of Saint Nicholas abound. One of the most famous involves the kindly saint leaving bags of gold on the doorstep of a poor family, thus providing the daughters with dowries so that they could marry. Some stories say that he dropped that bag of gold down the chimney so that it would land on the hearth below. This was more than a matchmaking venture, but rather one that spared the impoverished girls from being sold into slavery.
Saint Nicholas is an example of kindness and generosity for us today. This year, as we prepare for Christmas, we should remember Nicholas's quiet acts of selfless charity as we give our Christmas gifts. Download a prayer service to celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas Day and share it with students and families in your religious education program. Not only is this prayer service a great resource for the classroom, but also can be shared with parents and guardians to promote catechesis in the home. Available in Spanish and English.
Today, Saint Nicholas is known as a gift-giver all around the world. But we no longer think of "Saint Nick" as a kindly bishop. Over the centuries and across the continents, we now know "Saint Nick" as "Santa Claus." Download a primary and intermediate activity in Spanish or English for Saint Nicholas to share with your students on December 6th.
The candy cane is a treat often associated with Saint Nicholas Day. Its distinctive shape is attributed to a 17th century German choirmaster, who bent the candy into the form of a shepherd’s staff and gave it to children attending church services. The crook symbolizes the gentle image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. As shepherd of his people, a bishop carries a hook-shaped staff called a crosier. Since Saint Nicholas was also a bishop, the candy cane serves as a perfect symbol for this patron and protector of children. Celebrate Saint Nicholas Day with a blessing and sharing of candy canes. Download the Saint Nicholas Day Blessing of Candy Canes Prayer Card in Spanish or English.
In the spirit of Saint Nicholas, involve your family or class in a Christmas project that provides gifts for children who live in impoverished circumstances. Remember the children each time you gather together to light the Advent wreath.
Engage your family or class in a discussion about favorite seasonal traditions. Which ones have endured over the years? What makes them special?