It is refreshing to be able to answer ‘Yes’ when a child asks, ‘Is St. Nicholas real?’, especially if he just found out that Santa Claus, as most of us know him, isn’t for real. Linda, pastor of a small friendly church, made me aware some years ago, that the original St Nicholas gave only to those in need, but today Santa Claus seems to have become burdened with some of society’s current challenges including materialism and hype.
While all of our extended family love the lights, baubles and the tinselly madness that are part of this celebration, we wanted to recapture more of the spirit of the season. Tired of the buying spree that tends to dominate the Christmas season these days, we chose to have good friends over to a lunch, instead ,on December 6, the feast of St Nicholas. So our tree is called the Giving Tree, and while there are gifts for all who come beneath it, each person gets three small, thoughtful presents, with a message that says she must find someone to pass one of them on to. This year, the Giving Tree will also have beside it, a box for collecting books and contributions for the libraries being set up for children in remote areas.
I love this tree. It has several interesting decorations hanging from its branches, which always get interesting conversations going. Look – is this a silvery spider’s web? Yes, it came as a gift from Irina, and has a story:
According to Ukrainian legend, there was a family in the village too poor to have a decorated Christmas tree at home. The mother hung some nuts and fruits on the small tree outside their door to bring some cheer to her children’s celebration. On Christmas Eve, the spiders heard her prayers and wove their webs all over the tree. As the sun came up, its rays shone on the dew that was sprinkled on the webs, making them silver and gold. A spider or spider’s web bauble reminds us of the thoughtfulness of small, sincere, beautiful gestures.
Look – here is an angel, but with only one wing. “Oh, how sad …” some exclaim. But they are invited to read the quote on the other side of this gift from Paula: “Each of us is an angel with only one wing; we can only fly by embracing one another.”
Every Christmas, Zia includes a beautiful handmade tree ornament in the gifts given to each of her children. This family tradition begins with each child’s first Christmas. As they grow older, they might get excited by other, bigger presents, but are especially eager to see what new ornament they will get each year.
When they grow up and leave home, they have a collection of precious ornaments to decorate their own first Christmas tree that will evoke nostalgia and fond memories in the years ahead.
To remember that St Nicholas was known for secret acts of charity and love, in one family, they draw names out of a hat as part of their St Nicholas Day celebrations. Each one is the ‘secret angel’ for the next 19 days to the person whose name they drew, for whom they can do many small, helpful tasks – all as secretively as possible! When they perform a good deed for the secret friend, each places a small piece of wool in the manger of the Christmas nativity scene and so each secret, kind act makes a softer bed for the Christ Child, and helps keep the true spirit of Christmas alive.
- St. Nicholas, Santa Claus and German Christkindl (lindermangenealogy.wordpress.com)
- Two Christmas Traditions: A Christmas Pickle and the Belsnickle (carolyncholland.wordpress.com)