By Debbie Carollo
Fourteen years ago, our young-at-the-time family moved away from kith and kin, to a faraway place called Corvallis, Oregon (Go OSU Beavers!). It was quite an adventure for all of us, but especially for our four kiddos, aged ten, eight, seven, and three. Our friends and family rallied around and helped us drive all of our belongings and pets—a cat (who was fed McNuggets on the way), two fish (I cannot believe they survived), and a guinea pig (he sat on the seat in the moving truck with my poor husband and squealed most of the way—the guinea pig, not the husband)—from eastern Washington to western Oregon.
We settled in happily; enjoying our new life. This turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened in our family, for though we were four hundred plus miles from all our loved ones, we had each other. The bonding that took place during those four years in Oregon was incredible. It caused my husband and me to grow up and grow closer to each other and to God, and because we wholeheartedly embraced this new chapter in our lives, our kiddos did, also.
But what do you do when you are over four hundred miles away from “home” at Christmas for the first time? You start some new traditions!
God moved in unfathomable ways and led me to a women’s meeting at our new church. If you know me, you know that was a huge stretch for me. I don’t do women’s Bible studies or anything like that, unless I have a good friend along for the ride. I just don’t. But this was in November, an evening event to talk about the upcoming holidays. And for some reason, I attended. And there, I learned about Saint Nicholas.
If you don’t know much about Saint Nicholas, you really must take some time this Christmas season and study him, whether it’s with your homeschoolers or just for yourself. A good resource for younger kiddos is the book “Santa, Are You For Real?” by Harold Myra.
Very long story short, Nicholas was born around 300 A.D., an only child. His parents died from a plague when he was around 9-years-old, so his devout uncle raised him. At a young age, Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra, one of the chief cities in the province of Lycia, and served in that capacity for about fifty years. There are lots of fun stories and legends surrounding this man, but what we do know is that he loved and served God his whole life, and he cared very much for the poor.
I came home so excited and equipped with loads of ideas for a new tradition, and—from that year on—we have celebrated Saint Nicholas Day on December 6, the date of his death. It has been a perfect way to separate “Santa” from Jesus and the true focus of Christmas.
Here’s how it looks in our family. Feel free to tweak and change for your own.
As soon as Thanksgiving is over (or before, but hush, don’t tell on me), we set out my ever-growing collection of Santas and hang our stockings. We cut our tree and start preparing our home for Christmas. Advent begins, as well. That has always been a huge highlight in our family, but that’s another story!
Our family’s favorite part of Saint Nicholas Day is that we open our stockings that day. I like how it separates and draws out the gift-giving at the holidays. It also gives me a reason to celebrate another family dinner with everyone. Bonus!
Stocking stuffers—my favorite part of Christmas shopping—are not just fun; they have meaning behind them. I try to include socks and gloves (warm clothing, since Saint Nicholas took care of the poor), books and journals and pencils (wooden items, because he gave the children carved toys—hey it’s a stretch, but it works! Actual toys for younger kiddos are perfect.) Foil-wrapped chocolate coins and gift cards (representing the money he gave as a dowry to two poor young girls who had none), sweets, special snacks (Nicholas fed the poor), and ornaments are other items that make it into each person’s stocking. To be even more authentic, you could use wooden shoes in place of the traditional cloth stockings.
Doing kind deeds in secret that day shows how we love and think of others, as Saint Nicholas did. When my kiddos were young, feeding the animals or making a bed, or just being nicer than usual to one another, were ways they expressed this amongst themselves. Notes of love and encouragement, scraping someone’s windshield, or doing the dishes without being asked are other examples of this.
An extremely important element of our celebration is gingerbread cookies. Saint Nicholas was known to bake and hand out spiced cakes to children. We make dozens of cookies, sneak some onto the neighbors’ porches (kind deeds in secret!), and give out many others to friends and family. And yes, we eat several dozen ourselves.
Fun fact: did you know that the old-fashioned gingerbread boy cookie cutters have the pointed head because it is actually a bishop’s mitre? The first gingerbread boys were made in honor of Saint Nicholas! Each of my girls, and my daughter-in-love, have received one of those cookie cutters in their stockings over the years. You can find them in antique stores for a reasonable price. I collect them and have one wearing gun holsters—okay, not really authentic, but fun!
After the love and joy of Saint Nicholas Day is behind us, the Santas are carefully packed away, and the Nativity is brought out and given a special place of honor. For the remainder of the Christmas season, Jesus and His gift of love is our focus.
My mother fretted when I first started doing this. She was upset that “Santa” wouldn’t be coming on Christmas Eve. There are various ways to handle this. We chose to have “Santa” come to our house on Saint Nicholas Day to fill stockings, and then he also brought one gift for each of our kiddos on Christmas Eve.
I know some people don’t celebrate Santa Claus at all, and I understand and respect that. However, once you take the time to study Saint Nicholas and find out more about him, you might decide that celebrating his day would be worth a try. Simply giving out gingerbread cookies in his honor is a tangible way to show God’s love to others. To see this man, who has become Santa Claus in our world, as he truly was—a lover of God and servant to all—is a beautiful thing.
Debbie savors life with her hubby and youngest daughter on their transplanted-to-the-suburbs Sonflower Ranch. Writing, gardening, quilting, petting cats, and partaking in “kitchen therapy” are her favorite to-do’s, but spending time with family trumps them all. For more family life antics, visit her personal blog at sonflowerranch.wordpress.com.