(This is a reprise post, prompted by a few folks asking how we celebrate St Nicholas Day– and what we do about Santa. We don’t "do" anything with Santa… but we sure do celebrate this example of St Nicholas!)
I cherish Advent as a church season for many reasons. I love that it is a season of waiting, of expectation, and that the prize (as it were) is Christ, Incarnate. We don’t go out to shop much, but my kids still manage to pick up on the "__ days til Christmas!" fever around us, so I enjoy Advent as a time to focus on giving to others, especially to the poor.
Saint Nicolas Day falls on December 6, and he is a great figure of charity in church history. We like to read about him for several days leading up to the holiday; there are good retellings of his story on the internet, as well as a few beautiful picture books. The Real Santa Claus: Legends of Saint Nicholas by Mariana Meyer (the second on the left) features many beautiful classical paintings of the saint.
(A note of caution: the Demi book is a little gruesome, as it highlights the children cut up and put in the stew.) Focusing on Saint Nicholas as a person has diffused the Santa Claus thing at our house– he’s an historical figure, rather than a mythical Arctic guy whose purpose in life is to bring me presents.
We then give the children many ways that they can give to others. This has been harder than I thought it would be: many charity organizations are not set up for younger children to participate. But here are some ways we have found to share what God has given us with those less fortunate:
- packing backpacks full of non-perishable food and things like band-aids and wool hats, to give to the homeless we see around the city
- participating in Operation Christmas Child , through Samaritan’s Purse
- allowing our children to choose a gift to give to a needy family or child overseas, from Samaritan’s Purse Gift Catalog, World Relief’s Catalog of Hope, World Vision’s Gift Catalog, or The Heifer Project. (The book Beatrice’s Goat tells the story of a family in Africa who were transformed by the gift of a goat.)
- collecting coats and blankets from our neighbors for a coat drive
- hosting an Advent party and asking everyone to bring a food item for the local food pantry.
Four years ago, we also hosted an Advent party for our friends and neighbors to let them know about World Vision and World Relief’s holiday catalogs. We had a great time with food and fun, and they also went home with a catalog to encourage their own giving. The kids had a great time making a poster of what they had chosen to give from the catalog– ducks, or goats, or mosquito nets to prevent malaria.