We are slowly incorporating meaningful seasonal celebrations in the rhythm of our lives. This year, we decided to observe St. Nicholas Day, which is on December 6. This is not something that either Steve or I celebrated as children, but we do both have German heritage and there are elements of the St. Nicholas story that really resonate with me. Plus, it's a fun way to kick off the holiday season.
Just like last year, we have a little wooden Tomten who appeared under our tree on December 1. Each night he brings us a scroll with an activity or a kind deed to do that day. This year, he is also bringing us one holiday book each day. These are books that are already in our collection or that I'm checking out from the library; I'm just dolling them out slowly to keep the interest level high.
On the morning of December 5, Silas found a pair of wooden shoes under the tree and the scroll from the Tomten instructed us to prepare for St. Nicholas Day. This involved polishing our new shoes with beeswax polish (I make this recipe with beeswax and jojoba oil). A good deep housecleaning is traditional in Germany as part of the preparations and I would love to include this as well, but, let's be honest, cleaning is far from my strong suite. Maybe next year we'll try to include some light dusting.
Then the shoes went back under the tree.
As part of our Circle Time that morning, I told a modified version of the St. Nicholas story, highlighting the parts that are important to our family. What I connected with most strongly was his act of distributing food to those who were hungry. This is the central theme of the holiday for our family: sharing food.
My version of the story (I used our wooden figures to act it out as I told it):
Once upon a time in a country very, very far away there lived a kind and gentle man named Nicholas. One day, Nicholas heard about a nearby town in which the villagers did not have enough to eat and were very hungry.
So, Nicholas called upon his friends and neighbors and said, "bring me the fruits of your garden! Bring me the fruits of your fields and trees! And let us share what we have!" And they did just that.
Nicholas loaded all of the food onto his donkey and made the journey to the town where the villagers were hungry. He arrived in the evening, after the sun had set and the all the windows in the houses were aglow with light. He approached the first house and knocked on the window.
Inside, a little boy was playing and he heard the knock. He went to the window to see who could be calling so late in the evening, but he didn't see anyone. What he did see was two large sacks sitting in front of his house. "Mother! Come look!" he called.
His mother came and looked out the window. She also didn't see anyone, but when she saw the two large sacks, she went to the door and opened it to investigate further. The first sack was filled with fruit and nuts and the second was full of wheat for making bread. She let out a great noise of joy and called to her friends and neighbors in the village to share in this good fortune.
Everyone in the village shared these gifts of food and were soon strong and healthy once again.
This was many, many years ago, but the spirit of Nicholas lives on in each of us. Every year on Nicholas' birthday we set out our shoes and see what happens. If we receive gifts, we have to make certain that we share our bounty with our friends and neighbors.
So, before bed, we made sure the shoes were under the tree and left carrots in them for St. Nicholas' donkey. When Silas awoke he found them filled with chocolate, nuts in the shell, a screw-top nutcracker, a clementine, wool socks, honey sticks, a feather, a golden walnut, and a small wooden car.
The clementine, nuts, and chocolate are symbolic of Nicholas' gift of food and a reminder for us to pass the gift along. These things, as well as the golden walnut, have further symbolism (the most comprehensive St. Nicholas resource is here), and we will introduce these elements of the story in the years to come.
The other items were chosen as small tokens to help us overcome the particular challenges that we each are currently facing (the lovely book The Gift from St. Nicholas by Lachner is a wonderful way to introduce this concept). So, honey sticks are to sweeten our voices, the feather is to remind us to use gentle touches, the toy is to remember playfulness and joy, and the wool socks help prepare us for the cold winter ahead. These items will change each year as I choose things to address our challenges in that moment.
After snuggling up next to each other on the couch and enjoying our treats, we went as a family to the grocery store to shop for food to donate to the local food pantry. We told Silas that this was a very special trip to the store and that we wouldn't be choosing things to bring home, instead we would be choosing food to give to a family who didn't have enough to eat, just like the villagers in the Nicholas story. He really enjoyed walking the aisles together and picking out what he thought another child might enjoy eating (of course, he had some guidance from mama and papa who themselves had guidance from the "most needed" list from the food pantry).
All in all, it was a very low-key little celebration of what we have and an opportunity to remember to share our good fortune. We are so blessed to have so much and even though we try to model gratitude and giving in our everyday lives, I do think it's important to set aside time to focus specifically on these things. For us, St. Nicholas Day is a wonderful way to do that.