Today is St. Nicholas Day, a celebration of the third-century Christian bishop from Greece who was known for his generosity to the needy, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Through the centuries, the stories and miracles attributed to this churchman flourished, and he became associated with gift-giving. His feast day, December 6, is the primary gift-giving occasion in many European countries.
In countries where St. Nicholas is honored, the anniversary of his death is the primary gift-giving day, not Christmas. Parties may be held on the eve of December 6, and shoes or stockings left for St. Nicholas to fill during the night. Children will find treats of small gifts, fruit or nuts, and special Nicholas candies and cookies.
For instance, Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint’s horse, in the hopes that St. Nicholas will trade them for little gifts. This simple gift-giving in early Advent helps keep the focus of Christmas on the Christ Child.
Our American Santa Claus is an incarnation of St. Nicholas; tales of his legendary generosity were brought to the United States by thousands of European immigrants. But sometimes our children get the “gimmes” when they talk of what Santa will bring, so why not have a little St Nicholas Day party for children and adults to celebrate the true spirit of Christmas as seen in the life and legends of St. Nicholas?
This would also be a perfect opportunity to encourage your neighbors and friends to donate to a good local cause–you could suggest in your invitation that your guests bring canned goods to donate to a community food-bank or toys to donate to your local toys-for-needy-children collection. This kind of collection reflects the spirit of generosity of St. Nicholas.
After your guests arrive, you may want to have a little presentation–you may want to ask a professional storyteller to share stories of St. Nicholas. You could create a PowerPoint slideshow about the revered saint with pictures and text you find on any number of Internet websites. You could also create a script from those same sources, and ask different guests to read portions of the story. Include the children–this interactive approach keeps them involved and less restless.
You could even have some simple costumes on hand for the guests to use in the storytelling. You don’t have to belabor the history of St. Nicholas’ life, but sharing some of the legends can be fun and informative.
If you use St. Nicholas’ life as a springboard to talking about talking about how we can help others in our community–not just at the holidays but all year–you may be able to get families to volunteer for other projects. Helping others is really what the spirit of Christmas is all about!
This could be an afternoon party with simple refreshments or a dinner buffet. Buffets are always easier in my book, because you have room for all of your dishes and serving pieces; everyone can serve themselves what they want in the portions they want; and any spills are generally confined to the buffet table, not on your dinner tablecloth.
If you are planning to serve a buffet meal, you should lay out your serving pieces and dishes ahead of time to see how they all fit. There’s nothing worse than suddenly discovering you don’t have room just as everyone is lining up to eat. Planning the tablescape in advance guarantees the centerpiece isn’t too large, the shapes of your serving pieces work together and that you will remember all the parts you need–the plates, the cutlery and napkins as well as salad bowls, salad, the entree, and side dishes.
Rolling the cutlery in the napkins makes it easy for the guests to pick them up and carry with their plates. Coordinating holiday ribbon ties off the cutlery quickly and easily. (and can be used again!)
This centerpiece features a wonderful handmade St. Nick figure, created by a former neighbor. I love his sacks and basket of toys. He appears every year somewhere in our Christmas decorating at home. He is presiding over a basket sleigh filled with little toy ornaments. You could do something similar with a Santa figure or a large Santa cookie jar and some greenery and empty boxes wrapped in coordinating colors. If you don’t have a Santa, just focus on a stack of wrapped boxes of different sizes to tie in with St. Nicholas as the gift-giver.
A St Nicholas Day party to honor the ancient predecessor of Santa is a wonderful way to inaugurate the Christmas season with a focus on its real meaning–a concern for those in need and a spirit of giving in all.