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The Feast of St. Nicholas (Mikulás) holds many fond memories for me. In fact, I rank St. Nicholas among my favorite saints. I love sharing our family traditions and my takeaways about Nicholas. My siblings and I still celebrate, even as adults, and have extended the tradition to the best of our ability to my niece and nephews.
Tonight, for example, my nephews will put their shoes out by the fireplace, hoping for a visit from Old St. Nick. Growing up, my siblings and I placed our shoes outside our bedroom doors, polished to the point that they looked like they were new. Sometimes we’d put hay or carrots in the shoes for St. Nicholas donkey – not too far off from leaving something for the reindeer, is it? In the morning, we would wake up to small gifts, gold chocolate coins, candy canes, oranges, and something practical like pjs. Part of the tradition of central Europe (my parents both immigrated from Hungary) was that Mikulás was accompanied by Krampusz (not quite like the movie version of Krampus) who would leave virgács (a switch, resembling a small broom) alongside our shoes and stockings as a constant reminder to be good. You would not want to meet that virgács in anyway.
The way we understood the tradition, St. Nicholas would bring our stockings. He was, as some people know him, our “Santa Claus.” For us, December 24, Christmas Eve, was when Baby Jesus would arrive, with a host of angels bringing our Christmas tree.
The Feast of St. Nicholas allows us to refocus on Jesus. Nicholas lets me find balance between the commercialization of Christmas with Santa Claus and the weekly preparations of Advent, leading us to the birth of Christ. Nicholas is the tender-hearted bishop of Myrna who paid of the dowry for not one, but three sisters in a family. From the facts surrounding this story comes the tradition of finding gold coins in shoes and stockings on December 6, for it was believed that Nicholas threw the bags of gold into the home through an open window, where they landed in either stockings hung up to dry on the mantle or in shoes by the window.
Nicholas has a special place in Advent. He is an Advent saint because his feast day of December 6 (the anniversary of his death) always falls in early Advent. But he is also an Advent saint because he was a faithful follower of Christ. His life reflected the way each of us is called to show God’s love to others, especially those in need. His parents died when Nicholas was young, leaving him with a large inheritance. Following Jesus’s words to, “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,” (Matthew 19:21), Nicholas did just that.
“In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” ~ Acts 20:35
St. Nicholas showed his gratitude for God’s gifts by giving to others. What gifts can you and your family share for the betterment of others during this season of Advent?
A Prayer for Children
God, we pray that through the
intercessions of St. Nicholas
you will guide and protect our children.
Keep them safe from all harm
and help them grow to become
loving disciples of Jesus in your sight.
Give them strength to always mature
into deeper faith in you,
and to keep alive joy in your creation.
Through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
~ Fr. David R. Engbarth, St. Nicholas Church, Aurora, Illinois