When I was growing up, we always celebrated St. Nicholas’ Day (December 6th). As I child, it was all about my glee in getting my stocking filled weeks before my friends would get any holiday loot. But as a parent, I’ve found this to be a wonderful holiday to celebrate–one that provides a counterpoint to the Christmas hoopla.
During the week before December 6th, we do a craft or activity or two from St. Nicholas Center, which is one of the most beautiful, useful, and user-friendly websites on any topic. Then we have a Family Home Evening (on the Monday that falls before December 6th) focusing on St. Nicholas. We usually check out a few library books about Saint Nicholas as well as doing this fingerplay/echo story. We emphasize the following:
(1) Saint Nicholas was a real person who helped people because he loved Jesus.
(2) Later, some people made up more stories about St. Nicholas, so we don’t always know which ones really happened.
(3) Saint Nicholas is the person behind the idea of Santa Claus.
Then, when the kids wake up on December 6th, they find treats in their stockings. (Technical note: because we usually haven’t seen the last of the Halloween candy by December 6th, I am loathe to bring more candy into the house. So I usually buy those pre-packaged snacks that the kids love but are so hideously overpriced [Fruit Roll-Ups, fruit snacks, little packages of Teddy Grahams, Little Debby snacks, etc.] that I don’t normally buy. The added advantage here is that I don’t have to make them snacks for a good stretch in the busy month of December.) We don’t, then, put presents in their stockings on Christmas.
Why do we do this? Because it is part of my cultural heritage. Because a little gift-giving releases some of the pre-Christmas pressure. Because it provides some context for us telling the kids that Santa Claus is a fun pretend game that some families play. Because it helps our kids tie Christmas gift-giving to its origin in Christian acts of charity. Because they learn about someone who took up his cross and followed Jesus Christ.