Several years ago, when Tim and I were new parents, we needed to decide what Christmas traditions we wanted to pass on to our children. We definitely wanted our child and future children to celebrate Christmas as Jesus’ birthday, because that’s why there is even a Christmas Day, after all. But could we also fit the magical fun of Santa Claus into Christmas without taking anything away from Jesus?
For a while, we just opened our gifts on Christmas Eve and had our feast and a cake for Jesus on Christmas Day. That’s it. No Santa Claus. But as our children grew older, they started asking about the jolly red fellow they saw in the mall, and they kept seeing his image on nearly every sign in sight. There’s something cozy about believing in a magical reward for doing good. I could tell that the kids wanted to believe in Santa Claus.
It was a happy day when I read about St. Nicholas and realized that I could have both – a special, set-aside day for Jesus, and a celebration of Santa Claus, too. And I was also happy – no, delighted – to read that St. Nicholas’ day is December 6th. This gave me a way to extend the holiday season.
Who is St. Nicholas, Santa Claus?
Nicholas was Bishop of Asia Minor in AD 325. He was known for being an all-around great guy, very generous and kind to all. The story goes that Nicholas once threw bags of gold into a window one night, to help pay the dowry of a poor man’s daughter so she could be married. When he threw the bags of gold, they landed into the daughter’s stockings which were hung to dry near the fireplace.
(This is where we get hung stockings near the fireplace)
The Santa Claus that we Americans have grown up knowing, the one who comes down the chimney, wears a red robe, and says, “Ho, ho, ho,” originated in 1822 when Reverend Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem ('Twas the Night Before Christmas') to his daughters. His appearance is thanks to the Coca-Cola company who had him drawn for an advertisement. Such an adorable Santa Claus was drawn that he became immediately popular. This Santa Claus is a fictional character, but one that many Americans love.
You’ll have to decide which Santa you want to celebrate – the fictional American version of 1822 or the real St. Nicholas of 325. I think you can figure out ways to mix the two, if you like, and celebrate them both on St. Nicholas Day on December 6th each year. (Why December 6th? That's the date of the birthday of Nicholas, the real Santa Claus)
You can read a lot more about the history of St. Nicholas at the website that I’ll mention at the end of this article.
How can we celebrate St. Nicholas Day, December 6th?
(please note: I wrote this article in 2005. Children have grown a bit and traditions have deepened, so a few of the following ideas have changed for our family. Consider the following, and then visit the blog in the next few days for my 2007 ideas)
This is only our third year celebrating St. Nicholas Day, so we don’t have a lot of traditions established. You will want to visit the website mentioned below for more on how to celebrate St. Nicholas Day. Here is what we have planned for December 6th this year:
- On the night of December 5th, children place carrots and/or hay in their shoes. Legend has it that if a child leaves a treat for St. Nicholas’ white horse, he will leave a gift of candy and a present for the child. Of course, we don’t tell our kids that the real St. Nicholas will be coming down from Heaven to do this, but we tell them that since St. Nicholas was such a kind person, he has inspired others to do kind deeds like he did. The kids then get all twinkly-eyed trying to guess who would do a “St. Nicholas deed.”
- We like to bake, so this year we will try the St. Nicholas Breads at the St. Nicholas Center website (below), which has recipes from around the world. I think we'll try cookies from
or Germany . Switzerland
- Since St. Nicholas was known for giving to the poor and needy, we are going to go through our belongings in the next few days, and have them ready to give away on St. Nicholas Day.
- After our trip into town to give away items, we will have an afternoon tea (with our baked items front and center, of course!)
by Lori Seaborg