Christine Natale’s Musings On Saint Nicholas Day and Starting New Holiday Traditions

Christine Natale is well-known to many of you from her wonderful  blog  “Straw Into Gold”, found here:  http://threefoldwaldorf.blogspot.com/ or perhaps you know Christine’s wonderful stories.  She has a new book out on Lulu entitled “Fairy Tales” that you can find here:  http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/fairy-tales/12093029?productTrackingContext=search_results/search_shelf/center/1.

Christine was kind enough to share with me an article she wrote about “Playing Saint Nicholas”; I thought it was a wonderful way to jump start your own ideas about creating new and meaningful holiday traditions that may be very, very different than what you have done in the past.

Without further ado, here are her wise words about her experience and a special link to her stories at St. Nicholas Center!

Thank you to Christine Natale for being so willing to share with my readers!  Happy St. Nicholas Day!

How to Play Saint Nicholas

A long time ago (late 70′s) when I was in my Foundation Year in New York, my first husband and I decided we wanted to “do” Christmas in a different way. We had both been raised with the “million presents” under the Christmas tree 1950s/ 60s/ 70s mentality and we knew we didn’t want that anymore.

We came up with our own way and continued it through our ten years together. We didn’t have any children, so we did it for each other, but we always thought it would be very much fun in a bigger family.

The first part is to “play Saint Nicholas” by baking loaves of Nicholas bread (any kind of bread you like – we put candied fruit and nuts in a yeast bread with an icing cross on top). Then we gift wrapped them and attached a card that just said “From Saint Nicholas”. Then we (yes, we really did this!) went out at night on Saint Nicholas Eve (December 5), hung them on people’s doors, rang the doorbell and ran! We never saw any reaction or heard about it at all later, but it was so much fun and adrenaline- pumping just to do! You could, of course give cookies or anything you want to. It was actually more fun than Trick-or-Treating! Many years later, I filled large gift bags with grocery goodies and left them on the doorsteps of some elderly friends. They suspected me, but I wouldn’t confess.

The next part was about our gifts to each other. We put up our tree on Christmas Eve and made a creche scene for under it. That was all – no presents. It was unbelievably hard to see it that way on Christmas morning after our lifelong conditioning, even though we knew what we were going to do!

For the next twelve days, the Twelve Holy Nights, Saint Nicholas left gifts for us!! Really! We never knew where they would pop up or when. One night, we went out to the movies and when we came home, there was a big easel in the living room for me. I never did find out how it got there! All the gifts had tags that said “From Saint Nicholas” and we hotly denied having given them to each other!

The idea, which would work especially well with children, I think, is that no one would really know who gave them the gift! But the person giving it would know, which would make it more fun in some ways for the giver than the receiver. Then, at dinner on Epiphany (Twelfth Night) everyone would have to guess who really gave their gifts and the real “St. Nicholas” would have to confess.

As I said, having grown up with “hoards” under the tree, it was really kind of awful the first year. But it got to be so much fun that we never looked back after that. Presents appeared in the refrigerator, under pillows, in the car, anywhere!

I have had many experiences, first with my own family of origin and then later as a nanny, where the children plow through the pile of presents and then burst into tears when there aren’t any more! It’s an overload and each gift doesn’t mean very much, really. Spreading it out over the Holy Nights makes Christmas last – it’s not all build up and bust. The gifts don’t need to be flashy and expensive (as you already know) and everyone doesn’t get one every day. Again, helping the children make things for each other and the other spouse and figuring out where and when to hide them keeps the momentum going.

One year, I was staying with a family in the Seattle area. I was trying to help a small school starting there and ended up meeting and living with a family of musicians with 4 (then 5) children. It happened that the night of St. Nicholas Eve, Pam and Philip had gone into Seattle to do a concert and I was taking care of the boys. Geoffrey was 8 or 9, Brenin was 6 or 7 and the twins, Morgan and Marshall were 5. Pam and Philip were and are very special and spiritual people. Pam called me and we realized that we hadn’t prepared anything. I really didn’t have anything except a loaf of cranberry nut bread I had baked and some shiny quarters. Well, I sliced and wrapped up the bread (the boys hadn’t seen me baking it) and put a slice and a quarter in their shoes. Luckily, I always travel with glitter and I sprinkled it from their shoes around the house and out the door into the forest (they live in a rural area). We also had a bunch of carrots with the leaves on and I left them for the donkey (partially eaten). Then, I wrote a scroll, with the messages for each person from Saint Nicholas, tied it with a red ribbon and left it with the shoes. Pam and Philip got in during the wee hours and the boys woke them up shortly after, full of the magic and wonder. It SO doesn’t matter how big or small the gift – it really is the magic that is important.

About Santa Claus – when I introduce Saint Nicholas I explain that he lived in the “Old World” called Europe, far across the ocean. When people moved to the “New World” on this side, Saint Nicholas needed a helper. So he asked Santa Claus to come to the children in America. After a while, people in the “New World” forgot about Saint Nicholas and about asking him to come. But Saint Nicholas is very magical and will come if the children and their parents ask him to. Sometimes, if Saint Nicholas has come to a family, Santa Claus doesn’t need to and he just sends his Christmas blessings as he carries on to visit the children who don’t remember about Saint Nicholas. The children always seemed pretty satisfied with this explanation.

In the Waldorf Kindergarten, I would send home a note asking the parents to send a pair of their children’s best shoes. We set up our circle of chairs before we left with our shoes on them. When we came back the next day, there was a golden nut, an orange, a cookie or small candy cane and a tiny present. I remember one year it was a little wooden top. And if Saint Nicholas couldn’t visit us in person, there was always a scroll tied with red ribbon for teacher to read what he had to tell each child.

I created a series of stories to use in the Kindergarten in the days leading up to Saint Nicholas Day on December 6. I couldn’t find stories to explain many of the European traditions such as the shoes, golden nut, etc., so I looked into my heart and came up with “fairy tale truth” which may not be worldly fact, but true in its meaning. These have been posted on the Saint Nicholas Center website for many years.

Saint Nicholas Stories

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=437

The picture on the Saint Nicholas website with the story number five is Saint Nicholas and Knecht Rupert visiting our Kindergarten in Seattle. Saint Nicholas brought a big golden book and had something written there for each of us, including me!

Thank you, Christine, for sharing your wisdom and experience here with us today.

Happy St. Nicholas Day and many blessings,

Carrie

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18 thoughts on “Christine Natale’s Musings On Saint Nicholas Day and Starting New Holiday Traditions

  1. This is beautiful! I remember leaving out my shoes when I was a child, although I don’t recall any stories that were told to go along with the day. And I recall many jealous friends, as we were the only family I knew who kept this tradition. We usually received little things….popcorn balls, fruit, bubble bath or shampoo. But I have to admit that I think I looked forward more to the Feast of St. Nicholas more than Christmas day.

    Are my children too old to begin this tradition (7 and 4 years)?

    • Terri – No, lots of Waldorf families come to it late if it is not part of their cultural background..It is never to late to create meaning in your family culture!
      Many blessings,
      Carrie

  2. Beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing this! It was just what I needed as we are trying to tweak how we celebrate the holidays ourselves. It seems like it’s an ongoing battle against people’s “need” to give gifts (especially to my kids) so excessively they hold little meaning at all. I love the idea of playing St. Nicholas, and I think we’ll give that a go next year! Thanks again!

  3. Hello Carrie and Friends,

    Thank you for the kudos and helping me to share this with you. Of course it is not too late. My husband and I were in our twenties when we came up with the new ideas.

    Quick note about Saint Nicholas’ gifts. As you will see in the stories we have linked to, Saint Nicholas gives what is needed to help us with our weaknesses. Toys are wonderful, but even better when they are chosen especially with a gentle lesson in mind. For example, a daughter or son of say, 8 years old who puts up a fuss about helping in the kitchen. They might receive their own cooking or baking utensils, a fun cookbook, chef’s hat and apron. A child who doesn’t like to pick up his or her toys might receive a helping gnome with a little book or verse about keeping tidy. You get the idea. The older children in the family may enjoy discussing with you what they think the younger (or older) children really need. We are very fortunate that there are so many Waldorf orienting shops online that offer meaningful gifts. But the hope is that over time, the child will come to enjoy making or helping to buy really meaningful gifts for others. Don’t forget the “service” gifts – for example a handmade picture showing the recipient what kind of help the giver will give. Help in the garden, babysitting, special cleaning, etc..

    Wishing you all a Merry and Meaningful Christmas season!
    Christine

  4. Calling Saint Nicholas!

    One more thing – you can ask Saint Nicholas to come to your house in many magical ways. You can go out on a starry night and ask the stars to show him the way. You can write a letter to him and burn it in the fireplace so that the smoke will go tell him to come. You can put out a dish of porridge for the fairies, gnomes or tomtens and ask them to go fetch him. Or you can just kneel by the bed and pray for him to come.

    You can put out cookies and milk for him and Rupert, but don’t forget the carrots for his donkey!

  5. Carrie, thank you for sharing this. I started this tradition this year and read Christine’s stories to my daughter last week. It was so exciting for both of us, because we were both learning about Saint Nicholas. We will carry on with this tradition, I have Polish heritage and it is celebrated there every year. We celebrated it as children, but I don’t really remember it. So now I get to relive the magic with my children. Thank you Christine!

    I blogged about it here http://olgastuff.blogspot.com/2010/12/advent-2010-day-8.html and here http://olgastuff.blogspot.com/2010/12/advent-2010-day-9.html

  6. its a lovely tradition thanks for sharing. We on the other hand give only 1 present each for christmas plus one from santa to the kids and being catholic we’re more enfasizing on the birth of Christ rather than the presents

  7. What a wonderful post! I had so much fun playing St. Nicolas this year and was very, very happy with all that the children gathered into themselves form our prep.

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  10. I spent some years in Belguim as a child and St Nicholas is celebrated there – this was new to us as in England, St. Nicholas is not really celebrated (except perhaps in families that recognise Saints through their religion, but I’ve never thought to ask any Catholic people I know, for example).

    Funnily enough, this year is the first year I have thought of celebrating the day with my children (I guess a child in Grade 2 really focuses the mind on Saints ;) ) and I have been busy planning to begin a series of main lessons in the lead up to the day – using Christine Natale’s wonderful stories :)

    And how wonderful to carry glitter wherever you go! I can imagine that brings so much joy to children if one can occasionally wave one’s hand and let forth a flurry of sparkles!

  11. I was asked to be Saint Nicholas in a small Waldorf School this year and found becoming Saint Nicholas for just a few hours a blessing and transformative. I hope that I am asked again next year.

    • Charles,
      That is really, really wonderful! I wish I could be Saint Nicholas for a bit. :)
      Thanks for sharing your experience and many blessings to you,
      Carrie

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