Did St. Nicholas come to visit your house yesterday morning? We have been celebrating St. Nicholas Day for many years now, first as part of the cycle of the year in Waldorf festivals in addition to our Germanic roots, and now as part of our liturgical year in the Episcopal Church. Such a lovely day!
I love this little quote from Sarah Ban Breathnach’s “Mrs. Sharpe’s Traditions” about St. Nicholas Day:
For parents who feel frustrated by the fact that Santa Claus’s visit inevitably overshadows their religious observance of the birth of Christ, a visit from St. Nicholas can help tremendously. For modern children who no longer believe in Santa Claus (and to Mrs. Sharp’s dismay, it seems they get younger with each passing Christmas), a celebration of St. Nicholas Day can satisfy a deep desire in children to believe in a benevolent and generous gift giver who rewards the good.
The author goes on to discuss her little treats of choice: seasonal cakes (such as iced gingerbread, lebkuchen,), a small bag of gold foil covered chocolate coins and one longed-for gift. From Waldorf resources, “Festivals With Children” by Brigitte Barz actually has no mention of St. Nicholas Day (but does cover St. Barbara’s branches!), but Freya Jaffke covers the role of St. Nicholas in the Waldorf School setting quite extensively. She writes:
St. Nicholas brings another true and resonant image to children on their journey through Advent…Legends about St. Nicholas describe how he emanated love and benevolence and was willing to sacrifice himself. Thus he becomes a figure who prepares and heralds the Christmas festival, at which the birth of Christ can be renewed in us each year.
When St. Nicholas visits a Waldorf classroom, he often carries a large golden book and offers the events of the past few days for small children – Jaffke writes that he does not judge, but does expresses pleasure at things for the small children. Only after the age of seven could one expect children to begin reflecting on their actions and perhaps undertake to improve anything or change something. The author goes on to describe three traditional gifts – the apple (knowledge); nuts (strength!) and sweets such as gingerbread (warmth). The author writes a lively description of the morning of a St. Nicholas visit to a classroom with order of events. Most of all, St. Nicholas becomes an inner preparation for the Advent season for adults and children alike.
In our home, we focus on stories of St. Nicholas and the life of St. Nicholas. In the past sometimes we have done homemade gifts and sometimes it was a more major gift-giving day.; sometimes we gave out nuts and fruit and made iced gingerbread. This year we had gold foil coins and one gift plus a little set of Nativity Icons to color as ornaments for our Christmas tree (which we will get this week, I think). I didn’t make a golden scroll or note from St. Nicholas, which I have done in past years as well, but we did go to church and celebrate again. I have kept things as simple as possible this year to just relax and have fun with our children of widely different ages, especially when a Feast Day falls on a day where we will be at church, which is a busy day of the week for us.
This week marks the second week of Advent and tomorrow I will be sharing with you the things I love in the second week of Advent. Please share your traditions, successes, and joys.