My family just returned from our first holiday travels, something we didn’t do at all last year. Yep, we spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and even Easter avoiding travel and large celebrations. Our girls “visited” family members thanks to the internet, but it was also important for my husband and I to not let a certain global pandemic that shall not be named steal the joy and beloved memories of the holiday season.
When we made the decision to opt out of hosting Christmas for my family last year, my husband and I sat down to brainstorm how to make the holiday season extra special for our girls. No, we wouldn’t bring an elf into our home (don’t get me started on that snitch and the pressure he puts on parents, especially moms, to create perfect poses for Instagram). We would go old school. We would celebrate all the saints, feasts, and church nerd days we could think of and, thanks to my very church nerdy Episcopal priest husband, we came up with quite a list.
And so, we went to work thinking of special ways to celebrate each day. When it came to today, the Feast of Saint Nicholas, we had no shortage of fun traditions at our disposal. There are so many legends and stories of Saint Nicholas, from his rather violent reactions to heretics to resurrecting a group of boys who were trapped in a murderous butcher’s pickle jar (ever wonder why the pickle Christmas tree ornament is a thing?). We will celebrate Saint Nicholas again today and I encourage you to join us in the fun.
Here are a few ways we’ll celebrate.
Exchange of small gifts – Saint Nicholas was known for his anonymous generosity, especially to young children. It’s no wonder Santa Claus has become the most familiar expression of the legacy of Saint Nicholas. When the girls open their stockings on Christmas Day, we remind them that the tradition of Santa Claus leaving gifts in their stockings comes from Saint Nicholas. On his Feast Day, each girl gets a small gift and we remind them of the importance of charity as a Christian virtue.
Oranges and chocolate coins in boots – Unfortunately, we have not yet sprung for the traditional wooden boots for our girls. Instead, our girls put their winter boots on the back porch the night before today’s Feast. When they wake up in the morning, they are greeted with oranges and chocolate coins as a reminder of the gold balls and other gifts Saint Nicholas gave to children.
Decorating the tree with candy canes – If your Christmas tree is already up, add some candy canes and talk with your children about how it looks like both a shepherd’s crook and bishop’s staff. We talk about Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the important role that bishops like Saint Nicholas play in the Church.
Saint Nicholas provides the opportunity to bridge the heritage of the Church with the symbols our children see in shopping malls and other places around the neighborhood. In uncertain times like ours, celebrating Saint Nicholas and perhaps going a little bit overboard on upcoming feast days like Saint Lucy’s, brings a bit of fun to saintly history lessons and grounds our family in a hectic season.
We are also hopeful that, when the girls reflect back on this truly bizarre time in history, they will have memories of chocolate coins, felt wreath hats with electronic candles, and yule logs to live alongside those of pain and loss. No matter how you celebrate the upcoming holiday season, I hope your home is full of joyful memory making and time with those you love.