Holiday traditions are a great way to create memories throughout the Christmas season. They give families and friends something to look forward to other than Christmas Day. Continue traditions from your own childhood, or start new ones, like we did with St. Nicholas Day.
These special activities can bring loved ones together and help you focus on what is important during the stressful holiday season.
One of my favorite family traditions at that we started after we had kids is celebrating St. Nicholas Day.
The Story of St. Nicholas Day
As a back story, the history St. Nicholas is actually 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.
How we celebrate
Each year, we set my kids’ shoes by the door 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 when they were toddlers.
My kids are young, but I started talking to my son about St. Nicholas when he was 3, and how he reminds us that 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.
Other options for giving that kids would enjoy would be donating to a toy drive, food pantry, angel tree, or other local family in need. If you are not in a financial position to help others, that’s ok! You can teach your kids non-monetary ways to help others, such as making cards or paper ornaments for residents in a nursing home, holding the door for people, or being kind to someone at school who could use a friend.
As they get older, I hope to incorporate volunteering or helping someone in need into this tradition.
St. Nicholas Day Resources
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.
Traditions don’t have to be perfect
The first year I learned about celebrating St Nicholas Day, I pulled it together at 11 pm the night before. The Christmas pajamas and book were hand-me-downs that we hadn’t gotten out yet, and treats were 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 Insta-worthy or Facebook-perfect photos. They are about the meaning behind the tradition and the time spent with loved ones creating memories.
Traditions may evolve throughout the years, or even stop and start again, but the memories of the traditions will remain. I’d love to hear about your family traditions in the comments below!