Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The eve of St. Nicholas Day....

St. Nicholas' Feast Day!

On the topic of feasting and celebrating as in my previous blog writing, here once again during this new liturgical year, the season of Advent allows us to invite St. Nicholas into our home.

The evening has come to lay out the shoes on the floor, in front of the fireplace marble base, in the hopes that St. Nicholas will appear….

We are ready!

Here's a piece of trivia for you here; did you know the poem “Twas the night before Christmas” was originally penned by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822, but it was titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas”?

In honor of St. Nicholas’ feast day tomorrow, I have lovingly edited the original poem just a wee bit as follows, to suit the occasion;

Twas the night before Dec 6th, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. (laugh)

The shoes were all set in a row at the fireplace with care,

In hopes that St Nicholas would soon leave treats there.

Over many years, it has been our personal family tradition (the Dutch heritage side we’ve adapted into this Feast day) to place one shoe per family member in front of the fireplace on the eve of St. Nicholas' feast day.

A Dutch heritage custom to carry on with.

Our family's shoes are in place.

Our children become increasingly eager for this day as the month of December flips up on the new calendar page, resulting in sugarplum dreams in their heads and hardly sleeping a wink the night before St. Nicholas’ day. This year, the anticipation was somehow remarkably ultra high, with an early beginning of the celebrations, noticing there were a few shoes in a row at the fireplace early yesterday morning. This fun loving children's enthusiasm gradually became wonderfully infectious throughout the last few days as they chatted amongst the family, especially yesterday, while we were preparing a special surprise for daddy by the day’s end (another post to come).

Symbols for the feast day are being prepared.
Shown here are gold coins, St. Nicholas chocolate name initials, Taai-taai St. Nicholas cookies, St. Nicholas candy, stories to read and a reminder of the feast day with a lovely statue my mother blessed us with. Missing in the photo are the candy canes, but they are here, ready.

Being the day of a special feast celebration, we excuse the children from their schooling to honor this special Saint. We’ve also been preparing for this day in advance by studying the stories and symbols, as well as the historical timeline journey of St. Nicholas historically and geographically, traveling where he once lived and performed his many acts of charity with the use of a large wall map present and geography books in hand. The collection of picture books have been read many times, and alas, we are at the eve of this feast at last.

A few years ago I made special St. Nicholas books and had them bound for all our children, featuring many pages with stories, recipes, pictures, symbols and much more inside, they themselves can use with their own families at this time of year. It came in handy this year again to keep nearby.

We have a special art project planned for tomorrow, we’ll eat our “taai taai’ cookies while we work and play, and enjoy the contents of the filled "treat" shoes.

My newly acquired addition this year.

I was thrilled to be able to find an out of print book and add it to our growing Advent/Christmas collection this year. It's certainly no longer available (boohoo), an absolute shame! The book is titled "The Baker's Dozen; A Saint Nicholas Tale; retold by Aaron Shepard". The artwork is so beautiful, the children were drawn into the story immediately. Though I cannot share it personally with you this year, I was able to locate the story online for you to read HERE, and located two of the lovely artwork story pages both HERE and HERE for you to see yourself. If you care to collect one of the cookie cutters shown in the book for your family, you can find them available for sale HERE at the St. Nicholas website.

St. Nicholas cookies

Several times we had St. Nicholas come visit us at home, dressed in his finery, educating the children about who he was, where he lived and ending the visit by giving little bags of gold coins, or candy canes to the children.

A surprise visit from St. Nicholas one year...

My, how the children were in stunned silence and awe, yet one screaming little baby wasn't happy at all when she had her picture with him along with the others. St. Nicholas' helper was holding his crozier, too bad it doesn't show here as it's lovely and had jingle bells on it to announce his arrival at our door. This was a super special year in our home, with hubby just returning from being ill and hospitalized. What a surprise someone had sent St. Nicholas to visit us!

Our local Dutch store has also been a center to see this Saintly man awaiting children to come see him and give them candy canes with good cheer.

Some of St. Nicholas’ symbols we bring to life, and have around our home (and these are but a few) are included in our celebrations of the day. Here are some with their explanations;

- Miter; A special tall pointed hat worn by a Bishop unique to St. Nicholas among holiday gift givers.

- Crozier;
A hooked staff carried by a Bishop; represents a shepherd’s staff as the bishop is to be the shepherd of the people, as Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Also it is a general symbol to represent a Bishop but unique to St. Nicholas as a gift giver. We use candy canes to represent croziers in our shoes.

- Gold Coins;
another way of representing the gold given as dowries (ours are chocolate golden coins)

- Children;
Often shown with St. Nicholas because he is their patron Saint, or the family’s/parishes patron Saint.

- Book;
The large book is the Holy Gospels or the Holy Scriptures, which somehow became the record book for children’s behavior later on.

- Shoes
; Children fill their shoes with carrots, turnips or hay for St. Nicholas’ horse or donkey. St. Nicholas replaces them with treats. Treats are a symbol then of St. Nicholas.

To our family (all of you!) and many friends (especially Ben & Karen and their family).....

Happy St. Nicholas Day!