Catholic Activity: St. Nicholas Day Party
This party cultivates devotion to the true St. Nicholas, rather than the commercialized Santa Claus, and the giving of some gifts on that day rather than solely on Christmas allows parents to place more emphasis on the religious aspects of December 25th.
St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6, is one of the highlights of the Advent season. It is on this eve that our children hang their stockings. From babyhood they learn to love the kind bishop with his mitre, staff and bag of gifts — whose name has become parodied as "Santa Claus" and whose memory is tarnished by commercialism. In addition to the toys received on this feast, the Christ-Child and His angels bring other gifts on Christmas Eve; and the Magi a few more on Epiphany.
Placing less exclusive emphasis on December 25 as the day of presents and also curtailing its gifts somewhat makes it easier to place more emphasis on the religious aspects of that great holy day. Do other children think ours are queer? Not at all. If anything, they are a bit envious of children who receive Yule gifts so early and who enjoy such a happy feast as our traditional St. Nicholas Day party. Having an early gift day also makes it possible for the children to give some of these gifts as Christmas presents to other less fortunate children.
Treats of the St. Nicholas party are the exchange of gifts, genuine Dutch cookies and Bishopwyn (bishop's wine). For children the wine is grape juice. But the grownups who face the high December winds along the Hudson River to pick up their children at our house always welcome the mulled Bishopwyn. Its recipe is from our favorite cook book, Cooking for Christ by Florence Berger.
The Speculatius, a spice cookie from the Netherlands, like all of Mrs. Berger's recipes, is foolproof.
The dough may be cut into St. Nicholas shapes, or into the shape of birds, fish or animals. We also like to cut out stocking shapes and ice them in honor of St. Nicholas, patron of school boys.
During the party we light the Advent wreath candle, and the children sing Advent hymns. All classes at Corpus Christi School have wreaths, but some of the children do not have them at home. We have found that parents, enjoying their Bishopwyn, have become interested in the wreath and have integrated the Advent program of school and home as a result of the St. Nicholas Day party.
Activity Source: Family Advent Customs by Helen McLoughlin, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1954, 1979