We started celebrating Saint Nicholas day while we lived in Germany. On the night of December fifth, all the German kids put a shoe outside of their doors for St. Nicholas to put a few treats in. We have co opted this tradition to help kick off our holidays with more gratitude and generosity. The German St. Nicholas tradition is similar to hanging up stocking in the US. Except that Saint Nick comes early in Europe.
Initially, I liked the idea of giving St. Nick his day separate from Christmas and spreading out the gift giving a bit. After all the big gifts of Christmas, the stocking gifts are often less celebrated. But on December 6th, the kids go wild at the idea of getting a few little treats so early in the month.
The tradition is built around the story of Saint Nicolas. Beings he lived in the 1300’s his historical details are fuzzy. But it is from him that we have arrived at our modern day Santa. His story started with less North Pole, flying reindeer and elves. But it did have giving gifts to children. Especially children in need. He was said to use his wealth (not magic) to help children in poverty.
So that is the story line we go with in our home. Less sleighs and talking snowmen, and more focus on using our hard work and blessings to be a blessing for others. So we tell our slightly made up, kid version of the original Saint Nicholas. How he used his wealth to help other kids. We tell this story as our way of ushering in the holiday season with a focus on others. We let the kids know they receive these little gifts as a reminder to be a blessing to others in this holiday season. They are thrilled for a few special pieces of candy, and it serves as a catalyst to start talking about charitable giving.
We have done different things each year. When we lived in Germany we would travel to Hungary to bring gifts to children and teens in an orphanage there. We developed great friendships from the time we spent there, a few which we continue today. Sometimes we put together a Christmas box that is shipped to kids in other parts of the world via Samaritan’s purse. Some years we have picked a name from the Angel Tree program. Or we look through a gift catalog that most organizations put out with gift ideas that benefit kids around the world.
The kids use a little bit of their own money to help buy these gifts for other kids. I wrote about the lessons we are teaching our kids. One of those lessons being: Our kids can have a powerful impact in other people’s lives because of their generosity.
Our kids don’t have to wait till they have huge 401ks to impact the world. They can create a positive impact right now. If they are running low on cash, I will give them little jobs to help earn the money. Even my 3 year old is great at wiping off the coffee table with a baby wipe. $1 might be overpaying, but it helps her learn that we earn the money we give. And even at 3, she can work, earn and create an impact in someone else’s life.
It’s easy for kids to become consumed with receiving over the holiday season. So we kick it off with the idea of Santa beginning the example of generosity that we follow. Christmas becomes a time when we can have an impact in other kids’ lives.
So tonight all our kids will be setting out their shoes. Tomorrow, in the morning, we will tell stories that bring the season into focus. We will do a little bit of extra work, set aside some extra money and reflect on all the blessing we already have. Then we will let the kids decide how they want to make an impact in someone else’s life.
We shall see what they decide to pick this year. I have already heard rumblings of two soccer balls for kids oversees, or perhaps some ducks. Although the ducks feels a bit spiteful to me. Like, “We have to do this stupid duck job, so let’s make other kids have to do a duck job also!” We still have a bit of work to do, obviously.
After 7 years of doing this, I never regret infusing more gratitude and generosity into our holidays. I hope it’s something our kids carry with them into adulthood. That might be the best Christmas gift I can give them.
How do you kick off the season? Any traditions that you make sure you do every year?