Holiday traditions are a great way to create memories throughout the Christmas season, and give families and friends something to look forward to other than Christmas Day. Whether you continue traditions from your own childhood, or are starting new ones, these special activities can bring loved ones together, and focus on what is important to you during the sometimes stressful holiday season.
One of my favorite family traditions at that we started after we had kids is celebrating St. Nicholas Day. As a back story, the history St. Nicholas is actually what where the story of Santa came from. St. Nicholas’ wealthy parents died while he was young and he committed to obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor”, and used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. While there are many legends of his good deeds, some include him tossing bags of gold into the window of needy families, which landed in their shoes/stockings that were left in front of the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.
St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on the day of his death, December 6, and children leave shoes or stockings outside of their bedroom door or on the hearth on December 6 (sometimes with carrots or hay for his white horse or donkey). The next morning, they will find a simple gift, and often a candy cane (which represents his crozier, or staff/shepherd’s crook). It’s a great story because it gives an opportunity to teach kids about giving to the needy, and to come up with a way to give back during the holiday season.
Each year, we set my kids’ shoes out at bedtime on December 5. When they wake in the morning on December 6, they find a few small gifts to help kick off the holiday season. We typically include a Christmas shirt or pajamas (so they can wear them through the whole season), a new Christmas book, and a treat like gold chocolate coins. Sometimes I include their holiday ornament for the year if I’ve purchased them already, or a special toy, like the Little People Nativity Set from last year.
My kids are young, but I started talking to my 3 year old son last year about St. Nicholas and that he reminds us how it’s important to give to those who are in need. He helps me pick out items for Operation Christmas box each year, and is beginning to understand that there are people who are less fortunate…that some kids don’t have toys, or enough food or clothing. As they get older, I hope to incorporate volunteering or helping someone in need into this tradition.
The St. Nicholas Center website does a great job at explaining the holiday and giving ideas of ways to celebrate. I love the thought behind this Letters from St. Nicholas, and may want to incorporate this into my family’s celebration. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the changes with each child over the last year, as well as give them a task to work on.
The first year I started it, I pulled it all together at 11 pm the night before because I just learned about the tradition. The Christmas pajamas and book were hand-me-downs that we hadn’t gotten out yet, and I included some treats from the pantry. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to cost you anything. Traditions aren’t about having an IG- or Facebook-perfect photos …they are about the meaning behind the tradition and the time spend with loved ones creating memories.
Traditions may evolve throughout the years, or even stop and start again, but the memories and fondness of the traditions will remain. I’d love to hear about your family traditions in the comments below!