The Liturgical Home: Saint Nicholas Day

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Growing up, I had no idea who St. Nicholas was. I grew up in a Christian family, and we even went to a liturgical church, but St. Nicholas? I had never heard of him!

Not Loving Santa

Now, Santa Claus, the guy with the white beard and red suit? I knew all about him! He watched you when you were sleeping (creepy!) and brought you presents on Christmas Eve. He rode in a sleigh with flying reindeer, and you had to leave cookies out for him.

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As a child, none of this made any sense to me. I would casually run into “Santa” at the convenience store. He drove an old beat-up Chevy, not a sleigh, and there were no reindeer to be seen! How confusing! He was like the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, a weird cartoon character that would appear physically in a very cheap-looking costume at the mall or in front of Walmart. And I didn’t know why (I still don’t know why!), you had to dress up every year, go sit in his lap, and have your picture taken.

When I became a mom, I wanted no part in the Santa Claus tradition. My husband and I were going to tell our kids that Santa wasn’t real and leave it at that. I was relieved and excited when I found out that what I knew of Santa Claus was just a cartoon version and that there was a real person underneath, a real person named St. Nicholas.

The Real Saint Nick

St. Nicholas grew up in what is now Turkey. He was born to wealthy parents and, at a young age, gave up his fortune to follow Jesus. He was a devout Christian, dedicating his life to spreading the gospel and helping those in need.

Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra in the 4th century and took part in the great church council of Nicaea that gave us the Nicene Creed—the one we recite every Sunday in church! He was highly concerned with the welfare of the poor and children, and there are many legends about his good deeds.

The traditional story associated with St. Nicholas involves stockings. Legend has it that there was a poor man who had three daughters. The man had no money to get his daughters married, and he was worried about what would happen to them after his death.

Saint Nicholas was passing through town when he heard the villagers talking about the girls, and he wanted to help. He knew that the old man would never accept charity, so he decided to help in secret. He waited until it was night and crept into the house with a bag of gold coins for each girl. While looking for a place to put three bags, he noticed stockings hung over the mantelpiece for drying. He put one bag in each stocking and left. When the girls and their father woke up the following day, they found the bags of gold coins and were able to get married. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from St. Nicholas on his feast day, December 6.

Feasting on Cookies

Most of the Christian world still remembers St. Nicholas and celebrates his life on December 6. Christian art usually depicts him as a church bishop with his cope, miter, and crozier. When people dress up as St. Nicholas, they dress like a bishop. When they make cookies on his feast day, the cookies are cut out in the shape of a bishop with a staff. They celebrate his feast day by putting out stockings for St. Nicholas to fill with chocolate candies that look like gold coins and oranges.

On the eve of St. Nicholas, our family made a traditional cookie from western Germany called Speculatius (recipe below). It is a crispy, buttery cookie with lots of cinnamon, and so delicious! We feasted on the cookies before bed and read a sweet board book explaining who St. Nicholas was.

After the children went to bed, my husband and I filled their stockings with little bags of chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil, an orange, and some other fun pieces of chocolate. My children were always so excited when they woke up! They would race to their stockings and eat their candy but never their orange! Before school, we would reread the story of St. Nicholas and pray, thanking God for a man like St. Nicholas, who was willing to give up everything to follow Jesus and dedicated his life to spreading the gospel and caring for those in need.

Looking back, I am so glad we learned about St. Nicholas and that my family celebrated his feast day. Celebrating St. Nicholas Day was such a great way to educate our children on the actual role of St. Nicholas. He dedicated his life to following Jesus. He cared for children and the poor and gave to people who were in need. St. Nicholas would never have wanted to be the focus of Christmas! He would point us all back to Jesus.

How to Make Speculatius (Recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon soda
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 4 1/2 cups sifted flour

Directions

  • Cream the butter, shortening, and sugar.
  • Add sour cream alternately with sifted dry ingredients.
  • Knead the dough and shape it into rolls.
  • Wrap the rolls in plastic wrap and chill overnight.
  • Roll the dough very thin and cut into shapes.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.

Want more of Ashley’s wisdom (and recipes!) on Advent? Purchase her book on Advent here.

Published on

December 5, 2022

Author

Ashley Tumlin Wallace

Ashley Tumlin Wallace, the author of the Liturgical Home series of books and articles at Anglican Compass, is a homeschooling mom of four and the wife of an Anglican priest. She and her family live in the panhandle of Florida.

View more from Ashley Tumlin Wallace

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