If you are like me, there are cool traditions that go with the Holidays that you have always wanted to incorporate into your life, but maybe have not been quite up to speed in time. Lent always seems to wipe the floor with me, as I intend to start some prayer ritual and then find myself 10 days into the 40 before I am organized enough. Advent is similar (by the way, it is the FIRST SUNDAY of Advent TODAY! Do you have your wreathe yet?).
My first real introduction to St Nicholas Day was in about 2002. I was working on a project for homeless women and children at the time and everything seemed to be going wrong there. I was leading up a small group of volunteers and a lot of blame seemed to be coming down the pike, waiting to amass on my head. The work seemed hopeless and thankless and I was worn out and depressed. I did the only thing I knew to do at a moment like this— I ran far away. I went on retreat at a Jesuit-run lodge high above the Nestucca Bay to pray and cry about my hopeless situation. You’ll be happy to know that while I was there I figured out the attitude I wanted to adopt toward my thankless work, but that isn’t the point of this story. The point is that on December 6th, I opened the door of my tiny room to find a little packet of candies on the floor with a note. “Happy St Nicholas Day!”. St. Nicholas had found me even there!
So I wanted to let you know that this coming Saturday is St. Nicholas’ Day, and the original reason why we have this whole Santa thing around Christmas in the first place. Santa is not real (something that I happily tell my children), but St Nicholas was! He was a bishop of Myra (what is now Turkey), and although there are many different stories about him, he is mostly depicted as being a secret giver of gifts. His stories are excellent examples for kids about generosity, and the gifts that show up in your shoes that morning are good jumping off points for telling the story of St. Nicholas. I am not going to do that here, as you are all internet savvy enough to get yourself to the proper source to find out…
All I can say is that my kids LOVED getting little gifts in their shoes last year and thinking about how St. Nicholas snuck into our house to visit us. Most hilarious was the squeal of joy and surprise when Clementine found her shoes full of candy, oranges and ornaments. I wasn’t quite awake as she had to leave early to get to school, but I could hear her giggle even from my room. She asked me later in a very ernest yet amused way if St. Nicholas was real. “Of course he is!” I answered. She followed with all sorts of technical questions: how did he get in as we locked the door? Isn’t it sort of scary that someone would come into our house? Who really put the candy in her shoes?
“No more questions Clementine!” I said, “or St Nicholas might not give you anything!”. Even a 20 year old has some room for magic in life. This year she says she is putting out her “tallest boots”.
Don’t forget to put out your shoes Friday night!