Some of you readers may or may not know this, but in some countries there is a gift giving holiday that is actually bigger than Christmas! In countries such as Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and the Netherlands, St. Nicholas Day is the major gift exchange holiday, celebrated on December 6th. This holiday pays homage to the Greek bishop whose infamous secret gift giving spread all over Europe. Children leave their shoes out the night before his feast day only to awaken to fruit, nuts, and small gifts in the morning. National Geographic gives a very interesting historical perspective on the evolution from St. Nicholas to Santa Claus and in America many people still celebrate both holidays.
I have celebrated St. Nicholas Day since I was a small child and I love passing down this same tradition to my children. The best part is that this day isn’t just a tradition passed down from my immediate family, but a tradition that stretches all the way back to the year 1200! (Sorry Elf on the Shelf, but you’ve got nothing on St. Nick.) St. Nicholas is the precursor to stockings, reindeer, candy canes, and basically everything we associate with Christmas! The gifts are always small and such a great reminder that the season is more about charity than receiving flashy gifts. It’s a great opportunity to explain the reason for the season and encourage your children to be more like the generous St. Nicholas.
Whether you choose to celebrate this holiday or not, your children might love watching some movies about the origins of Santa Claus! I recommend Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa, and Veggie Tales – St. Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving.
Need some shoe stuffing ideas? I always include a tangerine or clementine and gold coins. Both are reminiscent of the types of gifts given in centuries past. Do you know you can still get gold dollar coins from your bank? I’ll stick with the chocolate coins for now, but I always thought that was a pretty cool touch when I was a kid. Then, of course, you can add matchbox cars, small action figures and toy figurines, and their very own ornament to put on the tree!
Lastly, I used to love kicking off the Advent season with a St. Nicholas Day event. It usually involved our church organizing pictures with Bishop Nicholas and his donkey, along with fun activities.
I’m so excited to carry on this tradition with my own children and whether its Elf On The Shelf, Advent calendars, or whatever specific traditions you celebrate with your family, it’s really about making lasting memories with your family that your children will hold onto forever.