Follow the Dutch tradition of eating a festive dinner with family or friends December 5, St. Nicholas Eve. Tell the story of the saint's habit of secret giving and care for the poor. If the group is large enough to accommodate a disappearance, include a personal visit from St. Nicholas in his bishop's robe and mitre. He could give a mock lecture on good behavior, or he could remember with the children (of all ages) some of their times of triumph or struggle with their behavior in the year past. He then produces treats and the traditional gold chocolate coins from his sack to pass out or scatter on the floor.

Encourage self-reflection and the growth of conscience in older children by making a St. Nicholas Calendar with them. This calendar extends only from the beginning of Advent to December 6 and is a simple large grid with boxes for each day. The children may decorate the edges with anything having to do with St. Nicholas. They then color in each day's square as the days pass, using their favorite color to indicate "good" events in each day, and their least favorite for the "bad." Parents can help by encouraging children to talk about why they used the colors as they did, and about what helps make a day "good."

Since our stocking-hanging ritual comes directly from the St. Nicholas tradition, consider moving it to St. Nicholas Eve. You will be providing a welcome foretaste of Christmas to come as you return significance to the act of small, simple giving. Let everyone into the fun of being St. Nicholas to each other by buying or making small presents for each other that you take turns "secretly" placing in the stockings after bedtime.

Bake holiday treats early and freeze them. Then, celebrate a visit from St. Nicholas with a special breakfast the morning of the sixth. Include on your table a sample of each kind of cookie for each person. Use your imagination and the time available to plan as festive or as simple a celebration as you like. Keep the remaining cookies frozen until Christmas Day and serve them throughout the twelve days of Christmas instead of during Advent.

Begin a tradition of anonymous gift-giving in your family by watching for ways each can help the others secretly during Advent. Be St. Nicholases to each other with small gifts or notes of appreciation or encouragement or by making a dreaded chore magically disappear.


Hold a St. Nicholas Eve celebration for the whole church family. Meet for a festive potluck, catered dinner, or dessert, then tell the story of St. Nicholas or one of the legends of his life in story, drama, or puppetry.** Climax the evening with a visit from St. Nicholas, who first speaks to the children regarding their behavior, then empties his bag of treats among them.

With or without other St. Nicholas activities, produce one of the legends of St. Nicholas as a miracle play early in Advent.**

Involve young people's groups in the practice of secret giving by discovering needs in the congregation or community and working to fill them as a group. Then dispatch the young people in pairs to deliver the gifts secretly, so that the recipients do not know who the giver is. Or try an Advent version of the "Secret Pal" game with an adult study or fellowship group. Each member puts a paper with her or his name into a basket, which is then passed around so that each member can draw out a name. Each person then gives a small gift of some symbolic value or performs an act of kindness sometime during Advent for the person whose name she or he drew. Unlike the standard secret pal game, however, the givers in the St. Nicholas game are not necessarily revealed, and giver and receiver may experience the joys (and perhaps discomforts) of a truly free gift.

Many women's groups already have cookie exchanges, in which each member bakes one type of cookie, and everyone has a chance to build a tray from all the different varieties to take home. This tradition, already a blessing for the many women who are unhappy with the time and expense of elaborate holiday baking, can be a spark that encourages families to celebrate St. Nicholas Day in their homes. Hold the cookie exchange December 3 or 4 and send each woman home with an explanation of the St. Nicholas tradition and one or two suggestions for a simple home celebration. The cookies, of course, provide the treats.

St. Nicholas Day     Christmas Index