I don’t need to tell you that St. Nicholas was a real person. You know that the basis of the Santa Claus tradition comes from the real life of the beloved bishop of Myra, right?
If you want to know a little more about his life, check this out.
In our household, the feast day of St. Nicholas is the kickoff of the Christmas season in many ways. We’ve been participating in Orthodox Advent since November 15 but in our family, we go full on merry come December 6th.
I’ve noticed lots of our non Orthodox and Catholic friends who’ve been interested in what we do for St. Nicholas Day. So I wanted to give you a bit of the rundown about our yearly traditions.
We begin the feast with an evening at church the night before:
- On December 5th (St. Nicholas Eve) we have a Vespers service for the saint at our church. The Vespers service includes hymns about the life of the saint and is a beautiful way to begin the celebration.
- Following the service, all the children are encouraged to leave their shoes in the hallway of the church.
- The teens at our church put on a short but incredibly sweet St. Nicholas play every year. It gives a bit of a story about the life of St. Nicholas and about some of the great works he did during his life.
- Following the play the kids are told to find their shoes. During the play they’ve been filled with chocolate coins and usually little clementine oranges. (Even as of last year, W’s favorite were the oranges! Chocolate coins for momma!!)
- Gifts are collected for a local charity to encourage the kids to participate in almsgiving like St. Nicholas.
- There’s a small potluck with festive foods and we spend time with our church family.
For our own family, we continue the celebration afterward. We choose our family’s Christmas tree on the day of the 5th and then following W’s bedtime we spend the evening decorating the tree.
This year (earlier in the day) we attended the Nutcracker ballet for the first time with W on the afternoon before the church festivities. Followed by dinner with dear friends.
Before bedtime, we give W a new pair of Christmas jammies to wear for the night, and that he’ll wear in the morning when we reveal the decorated Christmas tree to him.
Brandon and I usually listen to some Christmas albums on the record player and drink cocoa while we decorate. I smile like an idiot (and sometimes cry a little) because Christmas Cheer. There’s some major nostalgic indulgence that happens as we go through each ornament. And then I cry again.
We don’t do a *ton* in the way of Christmas decor. We usually just have the tree, a wreath, our Fontanini Nativity (that Brandon adds to each year of our marriage), and usually some sort of dining room table decor. I have strong opinions on Christmas decor, but I’ll spare you that diatribe.
The next morning (on St. Nicholas Day) we reveal the Christmas tree to W. His reaction shots have been priceless every year. I’ve started to compile the photos from each year in frames to display in lieu of the traditional Santa photo since we don’t do Santa in our home.
(Note- We don’t attribute the Christmas gifts to Santa in our home. Santa Claus is more of a character to our son- not the bearer of Christmas gifts. I’m not anti-Santa, I bought Santa wrapping paper this year! Promise!)
There is usually a liturgy commemorating St. Nicholas at our church each year, so we head off to church after the tree reveal. Or in this year’s case, since St. Nicholas’ feast day fell on a Sunday, we just go to church like a normal Sunday.
I know of several friends who celebrate the Saint’s feast with small gifts for their children and we may do that in the future. But for now, we’ve enjoyed just celebrating with new pajamas on the eve of the feast. Many families do their Christmas stockings on the 6th as well, since the stocking tradition was inspired by St. Nicholas, but we’ve never done that.
In our family the feast of St. Nicholas is a day during which we gather together and kickoff the season. It’s a simple day of preparation and fun together while honoring the great St. Nicholas.