Santa Claus may just be one of the most recognizable figures in the world. Far fewer people, however, know the story of the real St. Nicholas.
Nicholas was born in the third century on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who were very devout Christians, raised their son in the fear of God. They died, however, when he was still very young. St. Nicholas used his inheritance to help the poor and destitute, following Christ’s command to give all that you have to follow him.
Nicholas soon became Bishop over Myra and was a devout defender of the faith, the poor, and the children. He was imprisoned for his faith during the persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian. He was later released and was part of the Council of Nicea (an early church council which affirmed the doctrine of Christ’s full divinity and full humanity). St. Nicholas died on December 6, 343.
In the Orthodox Church, we celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. When my husband and I first became Orthodox, I was very excited to discover ways that our family could celebrate this holy saint. Here are a few ideas and resources that our family has enjoyed over the past few years.
Ways to Celebrate St. Nicholas Day
1. Go to Church
Many Orthodox churches celebrate Divine Liturgy or Vespers on December 6. Take the family to church and worship in the same way that St. Nicholas would have back in the third and fourth centuries. Light a candle and ask the saint to pray for you. You can also pray for the poor that he loved so much.
2. Serve the Poor
Follow the example of St. Nicholas and serve the poor in his honor on December 6. You can volunteer at a homeless shelter, sort food at a pantry, or make kits for refugees. You can find more ideas for serving together as a family here: 10 Ways Your Child Can Serve Others.
3. Read Books about St. Nicholas
There are several great children’s books about St. Nicholas that would make excellent additions to your family library.
St. Nicholas and The Nine Gold Coins by Jim Forest
The Baker’s Dozen: A St. Nicholas Tale by Aaron Shephard
St. Nicholas the Wonderworker by Lily Parascheva
The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan (Though this technically isn’t about St. Nicholas, it’s a lovely story about a church called St. Nicholas in Russia that was closed under communism and reopened on Christmas Eve.)
4. Fill Your Children’s Shoes
One early tradition for celebrating St. Nicholas Day involves filling children’s shoes with small tokens. One favorite story of St. Nicholas tells of the saint leaving money for three dowry-less girls in their shoes at night. Our family tells our children this story on the night before St. Nicholas Day. Our children then leave out their shoes, and my husband and I fill them with chocolate coins while they sleep. It’s fun for everyone!
5. Other Great Resources
There are many fabulous resources online that provide ideas for activities, give coloring sheets, and more. Here are a few of my favorites:
The Saint Nicholas Center This is the most comprehensive website with stories of St. Nicholas, games, activities, and coloring sheets.
Show God’s Love: St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia The OCA has a great Church School (or homeschool) lesson on St. Nicholas for elementary school students.
St. Nicholas Day on Close to Home Molly Sabourin has a very fun podcast interviewing her young son about his favorite St. Nicholas day traditions. They also sing the troparion of St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas Day Traditions Adventures of an Orthodox Mom shares her family’s traditions for St. Nicholas Day. She also includes an excellent fasting sugar cookie recipe.
This St. Nicholas Day will find my family at our church (also named St. Nicholas, and celebrating its feast day!), surrounded by our church family, singing the Hymn of St. Nicholas:
Oh, who loves Nicholas the saintly
Oh, who serves Nicholas the saintly
Him will Nicholas receive
And give help in time of need
Holy Father Nicholas.
Holy Father Nicholas, pray for us that we may love the Incarnate Christ and serve the poor around us. Amen.
How does your family celebrate St. Nicholas Day? Share your traditions in the comments!
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