Little HolyDays: The Feast of St. Nicholas

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Welcome to our first Little HolyDays link up and Happy New Year! No, I haven’t gotten the months confused, it’s the beginning of a new liturgical year. Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. Let’s hope you were more organized than I and didn’t spend part of your Sunday scrambling around looking  for your Advent wreath (don’t worry! I found it!).

Anyhow, for our very first Little HolyDays link up (yay!) I wanted to share with you about what we’ll be doing to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6th. (The Little HolyDays link up is at the bottom).

Until recently, I didn’t know anything about St. Nicholas other than the fact that Santa Claus is his strange holiday descendant of sorts. When I did get to know St. Nicholas a little bit, he turned out to be a huge surprise. This ain’t yo’ grandma’s saint! Well, I don’t know your grandma. Maybe she has a great devotion to St. Nicholas. But what I’m trying to say is, St. Nicholas is nothing like his jolly, rosy-cheeked, red-suited, cookie-snarfing counterpart who is concerned with everyone’s “niceness.” In fact, I don’t think St. Nicholas put much stock in “being nice” but he was a fighter for the truth—literally.  From examinations of this holy bishop’s relics in Bari, Italy, it’s clear that he sported a seriously broken nose. It appears to be broken multiple times and some legends even claim he grew up as a street fighter. We do know that he was kicked out of the Council of Nicea for punching the heretic Arias in the face. Arias was teaching that Christ was not fully divine and St. Nicholas just couldn’t listen to another word.

Image from cantaur.blogspot.com

Fist raised and causing a riot. Jolly Old St. Nicholas, right?!

While I’m not advocating punching heretics in the face, (and he did get in big trouble for his violent act), I can’t help but love St. Nicholas for his fiery passion for the truth. In case the face-punch tale has you convinced that St. Nicholas was a big jerk, let me tell you a couple more stories to reveal this saints courage and compassion. Upon hearing that three innocent men were going to be executed, St. Nicholas ran to the scene and demanded that the executioner put down his sword. The courage and authority of the saint halted the execution and the prisoners were freed. Or maybe the executioner heard about what happened to Arias. When St. Nicholas heard that a poor man’s three daughters had no dowry to marry and would likely be forced into prostitution, he anonymously provided them each with a generous dowry. This may be how the tradition of giving gifts to children on St. Nicholas Day got started. I love St. Nicholas’s passion and active love, even though it must have gotten him into trouble sometimes. I think his devotion to justice, truth, and charity is something that merits a big celebration.

At our house, we exchange gifts on St. Nicholas Day instead of Christmas Day. It’s traditional to fill children’s shoes with little presents and so we buy each child a new pair of shoes, fill them with little edible treats, and wrap up any other little gifties we’re giving our little ones. Presents at our house are a simple affair, but we don’t want them to be the focus of Christmas so we like enjoying them together on a different day. We do join my husband’s family on Christmas Day to exchange gifts with them, but so far I think our kids enjoy being together with their extended family as much as the gifts. The presents themselves don’t seem to take the spotlight off the meaning of the day. How do you arrange gift-giving in your Christmas traditions?

This year, as St. Nicholas Day falls on a Thursday, we’ll try to attend the 7am Mass followed by presents and we’ll end the day with a feast: Sparkling Pear Juice as a special treat for the kids (and this pregnant gal), Cranberry Chicken from this cookbook, fresh greens from our urban garden, and I’ll try to create a gluten-free version of these traditional St. Nicholas Day spice cookies.  In general, our Advent is pretty somber: lots of vegetarian meals, simple soups, and quiet evenings. St. Nicholas Day is a bright spot in the First Week of Advent.

We don’t really celebrate Santa Claus, although our kids know who he is and know that many families do Santa-related things during the month of December. And I don’t think Santa is bad or that family’s with special Santa traditions should give them up. But let’s be real, in a contest for awesomeness, I think the generous, brave, face-punching saint is the clear winner. :)

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Now it’s time for you to share your traditions!

We are three Catholic bloggers who love to observe the liturgical year to deepen our families’ faith and build up the domestic church. We would love to hear about your family’s celebrations and traditions! Please join us in “redeeming the time” in this Year of Faith by sharing your posts (old or new) about feast days, liturgical seasons, etc. in this new linkup. We are starting at the beginning of the Liturgical Year: The Season of Advent!

Some topics we would be excited to read about during the Advent and Christmas seasons are (but not limited to!):

  • Sustainability and Responsible Gift Giving/Food
  • Food & Recipes
  • Simple Holiday traditions, crafts and activities
  • Reflections on the seasons
  • Charity
  • Teaching and Learning  about the Christian Year with Children

This link up will be open until Thursday evening, December 6th. There will be a new link up open on Monday, December 10th, and we will highlight some of our favorite links from the previous week in the new post, and on a Little HolyDays Pinterest board.

For the three of us, this link up is a way in which we plan on exploring and deepening our Catholic faith, but we would really love to hear from bloggers of all denominations.

We welcome you to share your own feast, festivals, and celebrations that fall within each week of December.

As moderators of this link up, we will reserve the right to remove any offensive or off-topic posts as we see fit, in order to maintain a kind and positive atmosphere.

So, here’s what you do:

1. Click the linky below to add your post to the Little HolyDays link up.

2. Add the Little HolyDays button (code below) to the bottom of your post so your readers can find the other great links!

3. Come back next week to see our favorite posts from the previous week and link up again.

We can’t wait to read your posts and get inspired by your traditions!

 

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Comments

  1. Jayne says

    I’m a new Mum to 3 teenagers who are fairly ambivalent to religion, due to issues with their mother.
    I do try to instil & loving generous nature in them, but it’s hard when they have never been expected to thank people or give up anything. They also get everything they want because Mum needs to buy their affection. It’s such a sad situation to land in.
    I decided that even though they are only with us a few Sundays in Advent we would have wreath & candles & I downloaded readings from World Vision.
    There was a bit of giggling & silliness & the cordial was spilt in the flourishing lighting of the match, but it’s a start to a tradition.
    Thanks for inspiring me into action
    :)

  2. says

    Dear Haley,
    do you know St. Nicholas is HUGE in the Netherlands? It’s called Sinterklaas, and it’s a “fever”, I tell you! (and we’re right in the middle of it…!)

    It starts around the 15th of November, when Sinterklaas and his helpers “Zwarte Pieten” (Black Piets – ok, a reminiscence of the colonial times… but it seems everybody is ok with it. Kids LOVE Zwarte Pieten!) arrive on a steamboat from “Spain”. They come in full attire, up a river (it’s in a different town every year), Sinterklas in bishop clothes, the Zwarte Pieten in a sort of “pageant” clothes in bright colors, and a white horse, Americo – he can walk on the roof of houses. They bring “pepper noten”, round spice cookies – the size of pebbles, and candy that they throw at the hundreds of children waiting on the dock. The children were there very early singing Sinterklaas songs along with philharmonic bands, while waiting for him to arrive. “Will he come this year? We better sing harder!”
    It’s amazing.

    Then, until the 6th December (when Sinterklaas goes back to Spain to celebrate his anniversary), they stay in the country. (There’s a daily “Sinterklaas News” show on tv, hilarious…) They are around, checking if the children are behaving… They walk on the rooftops and climb chimneys. Kids can put their shoe everyday, with a carrot or an apple for the horse, or a glass of water, or a cookie, or a drawing… Sometimes they get a small present, sometimes not. I make very small packages with two or three “peppernoten”, or a chocolate frog, or a small book… The best present this year was a Zwarte Piet costume – my son didn’t take it out for two days!

    On the evening of the 5th, we get together with the family – this year we did it last saturday, some family members live far away and it’s easier for them to travel in the weekend. We ate raw haring, pea soup with smoked sausage and had chocolate milk with whipped cream for desert. Not the most elegant combination of flavors, but hey, that’s tradition!
    Then the funniest part of the evening started.
    A month earlier the family made a lottery. Everybody got someone else’s name. In secret, you have to build a “surprise”, something related to the person and the small gift you buy for this person (normally we agree that the present has to be around 25 euros, not more). In order to relate the gift and the present to the person, we write a poem, a letter from Sinterklaas, saying all the good things this person did, a funny story that happened this year – kids are amazed: how can he know all of this?? You can also be a bit naughty or mean in your poem, but the general intention is to cause a laugh and make the person feel good. For instance, my husband had his small sister. She’s almost 20, is in college, but still comes back every weekend to her parents and they do her laundry. Sinterklaas had to make a joke out of it! So he made her a washing machine (out of a card-box) full of old rags. She had to go through the rags and find her presents there (nice Italian delicacies for her student kitchen). But before she had to read the poem out loud, where Sinterklaas made fun of her “semi-independence”.

    I love Sinterklaas. In the beginning, when I moved to Holland I didn’t understand it. But indeed, he is far more cooler than “Santa”, and I like the general modesty and hard work that goes with the presents’ giving. It’s not a bunch of gifts, you get one carefully chosen present, and someone has hard work creating a poem and a “surprise” for you. A few years ago I “imported” the idea to Portugal, and it was a huge success. It was amazing to see the creativity and imagination that all the people in the family have shown. Not to mention the two hours show we put up together – it makes a great evening.

    Hope all is well with you, have a great Sinterklaas this week!
    With love from Amsterdam,
    Marta

  3. says

    So funny about St. Nicholas! Who knew?? I wrote a tiny bit about our St. Nick traditions in my post but we do simple here…shoes are left out and I put in a book, chocolate coins, and an (organic!) candy cane (I still have some from last year which is cool because those things are expensive!).

    As far as gifts, this is something I’m torn on. We do them Christmas morning but as the boys have gotten older, it does seem to eclipse the real reason. We go to Mass at the Vigil so all our celebrations start with that. I’m not sure if there’s a different way I want to do it, though. I’ve thought about extending the gift stuff through the 12 days, but I think that would only exacerbate any of my concerns… We do try for simple gifts – one fun thing, one book, one handmade gift, and stockings. And this year pajamas, because they need them. Which doesn’t sound very simple now that I’m typing it out :) Maybe I will spread them out a bit…hmmm…open to suggestions here!

    Thanks for the linkup!

  4. says

    We also do gifts on Saint Nicholas day instead of Christmas, it’s the main celebration in our home. I would love to participate in this, I hope I can get it all together in time :) Thanks so much for hosting this!!

    • Haley says

      It was definitely fun (and less stressful) to do our gift-giving on St. Nicholas day. Hope it was lovely for your family, too :)

  5. says

    {Kathy} Thank you for posting all of this. I am going to revisit the Saint Nick scene with my kids. I am considering getting them a new pair of shoes with presents for them if I can get it together before Thursday!
    Wish me luck!

  6. says

    I think we’re going to continue to do presents on Christmas Day, as it feels right for us to postpone the major gift giving/receiving until Advent is over – but I definitely think we’re going to add a small gift giving on St. Nicholas’ Day – perhaps just a little chocolate and a new book – though I might steal the idea of the new shoes too!

    St. Nick was kind of the early churches version of Batman wasn’t he ;)

  7. says

    Never having done a link up in the past, I was wondering… is it polite to share more than one link?

    Thanks for the new stories about St. Nicholas! We’d never heard a few of them. My son was thoroughly entertained that St. Nicholas punched someone in the face. We’re excited to fill up shoes for our St. Nicholas day here!

  8. Michelle says

    Yay!! All my girls need new shoes desperately, but I didn’t want to give them as their Christmas gift. Looks like we have a new tradition starting on Thursday!

  9. Lydia C says

    We are Orthodox, and St. Nicholas is a big day in our church too. We are going to read a story of his life on December 6, and of course we will put shoes out the night before. In fact the reason for the shoes is that traditionally everyone left shoes outside (so as not to track dirt in), and when St. Nicholas left gold coins for the dowerless girls, he left them in their shoes! We like to give a Christmas or Advent-related book to our daughter as well as chocolate coins and one other small thing – this year it will be a little bracelet that I found as my 4 year-old loves to ‘dress-up’. We like Christmas gift-giving though because that’s what the Wise Men did! We spread the gifts over the 12 days – of course we only give our kids a couple things, but we get other presents in the mail from family. The general rule is one gift per day, though Christmas day sometimes involves a couple more. I like it because it emphasizes the length of the season, and it also means that no gift gets lost in the shuffle. Our daughter truly enjoys each thing that she is given and doesn’t go on a present-opening rampage. We also want to get a nativity scene and have the baby Jesus show up on Christmas morning, since that can be a different source of excitement. We do have stockings, but only with a couple necessary gifts (some tights for my daughter and some slippers for my 1 year old son, plus a clementine for each).

  10. says

    LOVE this post! I learn so much from you. In my family, St. Nick’s Day was celebrated with a few simple gifts in our stockings-which ALWAYS included a special ornament for each of us to put on the tree. We’ve continued this tradition with Hannah (although our stockings haven’t arrived in the mail yet…..eeek) and I know that looking back at all the ornaments will be one of my most favorite aspects of Advent in the years to come.

    • Haley says

      Probably not as much as I learn from you! Love the ornament idea. When the kids snotty noses go away we’ll have to come by and see all your ornaments!

  11. says

    I love St. Nicholas and we love leaving little treats in the kids shoes. We’re holding out on the gifts till Christmas though, but its fun to start little traditions for feast days for sure. For some reason I find it a little tricky explaining the real St. Nicholas to them at this age…he doesn’t seem anything like Santa to them, and they’re a little young to explain prostitution to so…haha! But I’m hoping eventually they catch on a little more!

  12. Caitlin says

    Hi Haley! I’m not Catholic (I’m Presbyterian), but I still love your blog. I have a random question for you. I love Advent, and have an Advent wreath set up in my house and everything, and I work at a church, so I helped with an activity so that every family could make a wreath. I had to do a lot of research on Advent wreaths for the activity. All the Catholic blogs I read, and all the Catholic sites I came across with info about Advent wreaths did not include the center, white Christ candle, but just the 4 colored ones. I read in a few places that it was Protestant thing. But you have one! Do you know about that. In our church, we light another colored candle each week in Advent, and then the larger center white candle on Christmas Eve, and light them all through Epiphany. Have you noticed wreaths without the white candle? Thanks! Just curious!

    • Haley says

      Haha, I’m not sure, Caitlin! Maybe this just reveals what a Catholic newbie I am! The reason I have a Christ candle is simply this: the candle-making kit I always get comes with the beeswax to make it. Never thought twice about it. So I really don’t know how traditional it is to have one. Any expert Catholics want to help me out here? But ya know what, I’m totally keeping it. It’s exciting to light it on Christmas and it’s the right color for Jesus. I’m sure it’s not a necessity but it seems legit to me:)

  13. Stasia Blalock says

    It’s late, and I am running to walmart….sleeeepyyy! But I love happy fun holy little sweet things, like surprises on sweet St. Nicholas’ feast day! God Bless you Moma’s out there, say a prayer for me! Thanks for taking the time to share!

  14. Anne says

    I grew up in Milwaukee, where St. Nick`s Day is still widely celebrated! Even people who aren’t religious or are not even Christian often participate. Dime stores, chocolatiers and bakeries offer special treats for the holiday. Adults will often give each other a small gift as well, my mother even sends at St. Nick`s gift to my family now that I am grpwn! It is by far my favorite holiday as it truly captures the spirit of the season without all they hype.

  15. Jodi! says

    I love this post! I came across it today and thought I would share my thoughts. My best friend and her family celebrate St. Nick’s Day. I who grew up Catholic never celebrated that particular day. It really is something to think about. My husband and I just got married last year. Him and I are learning so much about how we want to celebrate our holidays. This year, I came up with a new approach to Christmas, Birthdays, etc. After spending too much money last year for Christmas on gifts for people, I have decided to do more home made gifts from the heart. I did it for my nephews birthday this year and for him for Christmas last year. I probably gave him the best gifts ever. I hope that years from now he will look back and realize what wonderful gifts his auntie made him. So I’m doing that same approach with everyone else I give gifts too. Christmas is not about spending loads of money on junk. It’s about the birth of Christ. Focus should be about that. I got to church every weekend and I attend all holiday masses. That’s something I look forward too each and every day. Having the freedom to be more creative with my gifts will save my husband and I money in the long. Plus we will be able to focus more on the true meaning of Christmas or maybe the reason why a certain person was born. Scaling back and trying to live a more simpler life with God in it, is more important to me than materialistic things. This world only focus on what you have, what you need, how you live your life, etc. Lets not focus on those things and focus on God.

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