A fun day for us in December is St. Nicholas Day, a special Advent family tradition celebrated on December 6th, which falls during the Advent season. This feast day of Saint Nicholas, who is the patron saint of children in many European and Eastern countries, is especially exciting for children as they count down the days on their Advent calendars in anticipation of a Christmas Day.
The tradition grew from the story of when St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra (currently Turkey), threw bags of dowry money, either through a window or down a chimney, into the home of an impoverished family, thus making it possible for their daughters to get married rather than being sold into slavery. As such, Nicholas, having inherited wealth from his deceased parents, conducted may acts of goodwill and charity towards the poor, especially poor children.
Similarly, to the American tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace on Christmas Eve, the old Christian tradition surrounding this day is for children, on the evening of December 5th, to leave their shoes out overnight in front of the fireplace, or on the windowsill, or even outside either their bedroom door or on a porch so that St. Nicholas, who comes during the night, could fill them with special gifts.
Adrian is wearing Janie and Jack Holiday Collection sweater
Another tradition is for children to leave carrots or hay inside their shoes overnight for St. Nicholas’ donkey to eat. (St. Nicholas was known to ride a donkey laden with gifts for children before he was able to fly raindeers.)
St. Nicholas with his donkey carrying gifts for children (Picture and reference is from here.)
St. Nicholas Day Candy Cane Blessing Prayer
Good St. Nicholas, we honor you
on this your holy feast day.
We rejoice that you are the patron saint
and the holy symbol of joy
for many peoples of many lands. See more here
In the morning, St. Nicholas would take the hay and carrots for his donkey, and replaces them with small gifts and treats for the children.
Small gifts to include in shoes/boots can be new socks or slippers (I added these "Gnome Sweet Gnome" Swedish Slipper Moccasins By Hanna for Adrian and these "Dear Deer" for Julia), small ornaments (I added a polar bear and an Angel ornaments), holiday stationary, or small toys. You may also include chocolate coins, an orange or a tangerine, or a candy cane which symbolizes a shepherd’s staff, which can be re-shaped into a bishop’s crosier. You may even want to add some religious gifts such as a rosary, saint bracelet, or prayer cards to introduce saints and history to your child.
My reader also mentioned here "Speculaas" or "speculoos" which is a type of spiced shortcrust biscuit, traditionally baked for consumption on or just before St Nicholas' day in the Netherlands, Belgium, and around Christmas in Germany and Austria. Also, check out the recipe for Bonhommes ~ another treat associated with this holiday.
Carrying on this Advent tradition in your home is a great way to welcome the holiday season. And although St. Nicholas’ feast day traditions vary widely from country to country, they all carry the same theme of small gifts and treats left in either shoes or stockings.
The book The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving is a great read as it explains the story of a young man ~ Nicholas, who, moved by the plight of the poor and needy, spent his life secretly helping the poor all over the world, giving gifts on Christmas Eve. Later canonized as a Saint, St. Nicholas paved the way for the current St. Clause! We usually read this book on December 4th as a lovely reminder of what Chrismas truly stands for.
So, do place your 👞shoes outside on the night of December 5th, (do not forget the hay and the carrot for the donkey) and see if St. Nicholas 🎁 visits you! p.s. Some place the shoes out for the entire week prior to December 6th and receive little gifts each day such as chocolates and easy-peeled mandarins. (See comments here.)
For Christmas inspired hands-on fun activities for your child, see here our🎄Christmas Inspired Unit Study.