Monday, December 4, 2017

Waiting for Saint Nicholas

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Waiting for Saint Nicholas on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Yes, my kids have been "too old" for Santa Claus for a number of years, and we never even focused on Santa when they were little, but I won't be a bit surprised if they start wondering whether Saint Nicholas will leave candy and gifts for them this week. True, they never wrote a letter to Santa or cared much to visit him at the mall, but they did like the little tradition of leaving their shoes by the fireplace for Saint Nicholas the evening before his feast day.

When the kids were very little, I started letting them leave their shoes by the fireplace on the night before St Nicholas Day - along with paper carrots for his horse! - and in the morning they were delighted with the candy and small gifts that had been left for them. Once they were a little older, we incorporated some seasonal learning into our homeschool by spending the day looking at the history and customs associated with St Nicholas. Somehow this little tradition stuck, and even as teens and young adults, these kids are hoping for a little gift and some chocolate or candy on December 6th!

One nice thing about doing those little gifts on St Nicholas Day is that we didn't feel quite the pressure to fill the stockings to overflowing on Christmas morning. There would be a few small practical gifts and some treats in the stockings, but it was low-key. And let's face it - even little gifts to fill a stocking can really add up and make it a challenge to stick to a budget for Christmas! For younger kids, doing a Santa type thing early in the month can also make it just a little easier to focus on the Nativity and on family come Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a guest post for the Homeschool Review Crew blog about St Nicholas (which you can still find on the Crew blog here:  St. Nicholas Day). Here's a recap of some of the historical information about St Nicholas:

Nicholas was a real historical figure who lived during the third century. He grew up in a Greek village in what is now the country of Turkey. His parents were wealthy, but died during an epidemic while Nicholas was still quite young; and he used his entire inheritance to help the needy, the sick, and the suffering. When Nicholas was a young man, he became the Bishop of Myra; and he was well-known for his generosity, his love for children, and his concern for sailors. Bishop Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned for his faith, and the anniversary of his death on December 6, 343, became a widely celebrated feast day. The generosity of Bishop Nicholas was well-known, and there are many stories of his care and protection of children. One popular story about Nicholas leaving dowry money in stockings of poor young ladies is the origin of the custom of leaving shoes or stockings by the fireplace in hopes of gifts. St Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children and of sailors; and he is an example to all Christians of generous giving and compassion.

The Feast Day of St Nicholas is celebrated all around the world on December 6th. Children leave their shoes and their wishlists for St Nicholas, and carrots and hay for his horse. In the morning, they find small treats and gifts. In some countries where St Nicholas is prominent, his feast day is actually the primary gift-giving day during the Advent and Christmas season. Children find their stockings filled with small gifts,  nuts or fruit, and special Nicholas candies or cookies. Since the saint is known for his generosity, gifts given on his day are meant to be shared, not hoarded!

Waiting for Saint Nicholas on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Waiting for Saint Nicholas on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Okay, so how did St Nicholas become Santa Claus? It's a long and sometimes confusing story, but it starts in 1809 with Washington Irving's satirical stories that reference a jolly Dutch character named St Nicholas. Then in 1821 a children's book showed 'Sante Claus' arriving on Christmas Eve in a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Those were the images that influenced the 1823 poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (better known as "The Night Before Christmas and generally attributed to Clement Moore). They also influenced the drawings of artist Thomas Nast in his series of drawings for Harper's Weekly starting in 1863. And with that, the Americanization of St Nicholas was almost complete! By the end of the 1920s, many artists were portraying Santa in a red suit trimmed with fur, and this version became an advertising icon during the 1930s with the immensely popular Coca-Cola ads by artist Haddon Sundblom.

Waiting for Saint Nicholas on Homeschool Coffee Break @

I guess I'd better make sure I've got some candy treats and little gifts ready, just in case my big kids do leave their shoes by the fireplace! I have my doubts as to whether there will be time this week to bake Peppernuts, a spicy cookie that is associated with St Nicholas in many countries, but I do hope to get them made sometime this season. You can find my family's recipe and more about this favorite cookie in my Twelfth Day of Christmas post from a couple of years ago.

Are You Ready for Saint Nicholas Day? on Homeschool Coffee Break @ #StNicholasDay #Christmas

Whether you celebrate the Feast of St Nicholas or not, it's a great opportunity to talk about the historical St Nicholas and his example of being a generous and cheerful giver.  I hope you'll take a moment to leave a comment letting me know your thoughts!


To find out more about St Nicholas, try some of the following resources:


This post will be linked at the Encouraging Hearts & Home Blog Hop hosted by Apron Strings & Other Things and at the Homeschool Linky Party on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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Kristen of A Mom's Quest to Teach said...

Really interesting!
We have the Veggie Tales DVD. Need to dig it out to watch again this season.

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