Saint Nicholas is one of the most beloved saints of all time. Stories about his life are re-told from one generation to the next, year after year. You can also find churches around the world named in memory of him. Just recently, there was a book published called, St. Nicholas Day Snow, that has an illustration on each page of the book with a church from across the globe named for St. Nicholas. It’s awe inspiring to see the impact he has had on all of us. We remember him every year on December 6th. (December 19th for Old Calendar)
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, many of us have knowingly or unknowingly adopted traditions that are rooted in the stories of Saint Nicholas – stockings, Santa Claus, gift giving, and leaving shoes out the evening before the feast of St. Nicholas in hopes of finding chocolate gold coins in them the next morning.
Saint Nicholas is dear to my family. When my great-grandparents were fleeing their home from the Turks, my great-grandfather bravely went back for our family’s one icon – of St. Nicholas – that was left behind in the rush. Saint Nicholas is also our daughter, Nikolia’s, patron saint. To be sure, we remember him every single year in our home.
Over the years, our family has adopted a few traditions for celebrating namedays. We all attend Divine Liturgy, when available, then we bake a cake for after dinner, we read a story about the saint while eating our cake, and then we have a discussion about the saint. We ask our children: Why did this saint do what they did? How can we actively use their life as an example for our own today? Who was the priority in this saint’s life?
How can we teach our children about the life of Saint Nicholas and also make his life relevant to our own?
Attending and participating in the services of the Church
Many parishes will celebrate a Divine Liturgy on the feast of Saint Nicholas.
Some parishes, especially those who are named after Saint Nicholas, will also have vespers the night before on December 5th. If you are unable to go to church on December 6th, try to take your family to vespers the night before.
“How many men have devoted their lives to the service of God and consecrated themselves to the Church because, from their very childhood, they have treasured their love for the house of God and the joy of liturgical experience.” – Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Liturgy and Life: Christian Development Through Liturgical Experience
All that we do and say points to God, life-long learning
Learn more about Saint Nicholas by reading a story about his life:
- St. Nicholas Day Snow (newly released!) by Charlotte Riggle
- Saint Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins by Jim Forest
- The Life of Saint Nicholas the Wonder-Worker by Nina Seco
Explore these great websites to learn more about Saint Nicholas:
“Our concern also is not only for what should be taught, but how it should be taught. How can we determine and communicate the key ideas and concepts of the faith in a way that learners will be enabled to acquire and relate new information on their own? ” – Constance Tarasar, Orthodox Perspectives in Religious Education Curricula
living our faith, daily
This is an often overlooked aspect of educating our children about our faith. It is through living our faith that we take a lesson about a saint from a nice story to a way of life. It is how we take the lesson from merely an abstract concept to relevant reality.
After reading about Saint Nicholas, ask your child, “How can we be more like him?” Given your family’s situation and resources, what can you do?
Who needs help in your family?
- Do your parents need help cleaning their house or preparing their yard for winter because it has become too difficult for them in their older years?
- Do you have a sibling who is struggling financially? Could you offer free babysitting so they can save some money with child care?
- Could you leave an envelope of money in their home that would pay for a utility bill?
Our parish community is our family on a grander scale. Is their someone at church who needs help? (If you don’t know, discreetly ask your priest.)
- Could you bring a meal to someone at church? A shut-in, someone who recently lost a job, someone who recently had surgery or an illness, a family with a new baby.
- Could you give a gift card or money to your priest to hand to a family who is struggling financially?
- Could you leave an anonymous gift on the doorstep of someone who is struggling or poor in your community?
*If you don’t know what to do to help someone, ask them! When we were foster parents, what I needed most of all was sleep. If someone had offered to watch my kids for two hours while I crawled into my bed and got an uninterrupted nap (and by uninterrupted sleep, I simply mean that I didn’t have to get up to take care of a crying child), I would have hugged that person and thought I had just won the lottery!!! Sleep deprivation with little ones is real. Sometimes what is most helpful to someone, may not be something you would think to offer, but it could very well be life changing to them.
“Within our Orthodox experience of Christian life man is not alone under God. We, all together, are with God. We are gathered under God. We are one: one Body. The small family unity, the larger fellowship of friends, the nation, the church are all aspects of this oneness of many. At each level it is a potentially religious experience, and if it is not part of our Christian education, there is something wrong with our approach.” – Sophie Koulomzin, Our Church and Our Children