Catholic Activity: St. Nicholas Eve
Perhaps an even more effective way of encouraging virtuous behavior in children than leaving treats or switches in their shoes may be the appearance of St. Nicholas himself, who delivers his treats and chastisements in person.
While in some places the children only put their shoes on the window sill on the eve of St. Nicholas' Day and find them filled with candies, cookies, oranges, and dried fruit the next morning (but only the good ones; the bad ones find a switch), in other parts St. Nicholas comes in person. He always did in our house. On the eve of December 5th the whole family would gather in the living room with great expectancy. By the time the much-expected knock at the door could be heard, one could almost hear the anxious heartbeat of the little ones. The holy bishop, in his pontifical vestments, accompanied by Krampus, would enter the room while everybody stood up reverently. St. Nicholas always carried a thick book in which the Guardian Angels make their entries throughout the year. That's why the saint has such an astonishing knowledge about everybody. He calls each member of the household forward, rewarding the good and admonishing the less good. The good children will get a package of sweets, whereas Krampus aims at the legs of the children who did not deserve one. After everyone has received his due, the holy bishop addresses a few words of general admonition to the whole family, acting as a precursor to the One Who is to come, drawing their thoughts toward Christmas, asking them to prepare their hearts for the coming of the Holy Child. After giving his blessing, he takes his leave, accompanied reverently by the mother, who opens the door for him. Soon afterwards the father, who, oddly enough, usually misses this august visit, will come home, and he has to hear everything about it from the youngest in the house.
Of course it did not occur to us, even in the first and second years in America, that St. Nicholas' Day should pass without the dear saint's appearing in our family circle. In the old home this beloved bishop's attire was stored away in the attic to be used every year on the evening before his feast, but now we had to work with cardboard and paper for the mitre, a bed sheet for an alb, a golden damask curtain borrowed from friends for a cope, and a broomstick artistically transformed into a bishop's staff. But at the right moment St. Nicholas opened the door. That taught us that it really does not require money, but only imagination and good will, to revive or introduce these lovely old customs.
Activity Source: Around the Year with the Trapp Family by Maria Augusta Trapp, Pantheon Books Inc., New York, New York, 1955