New Shoes and St. Nicholas Day

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Each year we get the kids a new pair of shoes for St. Nicholas Day (the ones above are for the girls, my favorite shoes for babies and toddlers!) and then we fill them with treats. It’s our big gift-exchange day instead of Christmas (although we do Christmas morning fun with Daniel’s family). We start out the day with Mass, then the kids get to open their gifts and try on their new shoes while we make a big breakfast.

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Look how little Lucy was last year! And I was just out of the first trimester with Baby Gwen.

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Oh, you needed a poor quality close-up of that adorable St. Nicholas dress? You’re welcome! Making a big deal out of St. Nick’s Day is the way we handle the big Santa question. Daniel grew up doing Santa. I didn’t. Neither of us are Santa-haters, but we do really want to keep the focus on Jesus. So, by celebrating the St. Nicholas, our kids get to honor a real saint. And when they ask questions about Santa, we just refer them back to the amazing St. Nicholas and talk about all he teaches us about being brave and compassionate.

My friend Stephanie at Mama and Baby Love shared a sweet post about how reading about St. Nicholas Day in our new ebook helped her start St. Nicholas Day traditions for her family. And I thought I’d share some snippets about St. Nicholas Day from our book with you!

About the Saint 

Until recently, I didn’t know anything about St. Nicholas except that Santa Claus is his strange holiday descendant of sorts. What I found out surprised me:  St. Nicholas was nothing like his jolly, rosy-cheeked, red-suited, cookie-snarfing counterpart, who is concerned with everyone’s “niceness.” He was a fighter for the truth literally.  From examinations of this holy bishop’s relics in Bari, Italy, it’s clear that he sported a seriously broken nose. It appears to be broken multiple times and some legends even claim he grew up as a street fighter. We know he was kicked out of the Council of Nicea for punching the infamous heretic, Arias, in the face. Arias taught the heresy that Christ was not fully divine and St. Nicholas couldn’t listen to another word.

While I’m not advocating punching heretics in the face (and he did get in big trouble for his violence) I can’t help but love St. Nicholas for his fiery passion for the truth.

This saint was also courageous and compassionate. Upon hearing that three innocent men were going to be executed, St. Nicholas ran to the scene and demanded that the executioner put down his sword. The courage and authority of the saint halted the execution and the prisoners were freed. (Or maybe the executioner heard about what happened to Arias.) When St. Nicholas heard that a poor man’s three daughters had no money to marry and would likely be forced into prostitution, he anonymously provided them each with a generous dowry. This may be how the tradition of giving gifts to children on St. Nicholas Day got started. 

Simple Gifts 

At our house, we exchange gifts on St. Nicholas Day instead of Christmas Day. It’s traditional to fill children’s shoes with little presents so we buy each child a new pair of shoes, fill them with little edible treats, and wrap up any other little gifties we’re giving our little ones. Presents at our house are a simple affair, but we don’t want them to be the focus of Christmas Day so we enjoy them together on a different day.  In general, our Advent Season is pretty somber: lots of vegetarian meals, simple soups, and quiet evenings. St. Nicholas Day is a bright spot!

St. Nicholas Prayer

Loving God, we thank you for the example of St Nicholas, who fed the hungry, brought hope to the imprisoned, gave comfort to the lost, and taught the truth to all. 
May we strive to imitate him, by putting you first in all we do. Give us the courage, love, and strength of St Nicholas, so that, like him, we may serve you, through loving our brothers and sisters. Amen.


-Amy Welborn (used with permission)

To learn more about bringing the liturgical year into your home and celebrating saints day, check out our ebook: Feast! Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year (and we now have a print version, too!)

Do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day? I would love to hear about your St. Nicholas Day traditions, so please share in the comments!

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi I am a new Catholic too and celebrating feast days is both new and exciting. I have decided to keep Santa but focus on the saints and of course Jesus. Trying to keep Santa in the background. We will be celebrating with books, chocolate coins and a teeny weeny present. Hopefully there will also be baking and crafting too!

  2. Jamie says

    I love your idea about shoes for St. Nick’s day. I think I will steal it. Growing up, we always put out shoes for St. Nicholas’ day. Kids usually need a new pair of shoes every year anyway. What a great way to incorporate Catholic tradition with necessity!

    • says

      I, like Jamie, am totally planning on using the new shoe tradition this year! All three of our kids need fancy Christmas shoes, and I have already found some for each of them. As a kid, I LOVED St. Nicholas Day, and we have continued traditions with our children. Our 2 “big” kids (6 & 4) will be receiving St. Nicholas medals in their new shoes along w/a few treats. Our little family has a special devotion to St. Nicholas, so this is a really important feast day for us – I have promised to make pancakes (yeah, so not exciting) b/c the kids have been asking for them lately, but I have been too swamped w/schoolwork each Saturday morning to do anything major in the kitchen (my poor children!).

    • Haley says

      Thanks! Yes, we are all about gifting the necessary ; ) Your shoes are too small? Enjoy this GIFT! :) Our kids think it’s thrilling, so no one tell them otherwise!

  3. says

    I love that you inspired us to start St. Nick traditions last year. I’m really looking forward to it. I grew up “doing Santa” and it would feel strange not to do our stocking on Christmas (personally of course), but I love having the real story so close at hand. If my kids want to believe in Santa for awhile, I’m fine with that because we’re keeping the truth close at hand for them. Though while we “do Santa” I want them to understand that it’s not Santa who ultimately gives gives and observes our good and bad actions.

    • Haley says

      I’m looking forward to it, too! This is our third year, but last year was the first year we really did it big. And I agree. Whether you do Santa or not really isn’t a huge deal to me and I felt ambivalent about whether we’d do it with our kids or not. But, like you said, using it as an incentive for good and bad behavior seems problematic to me.

  4. Kate says

    At the moment I am trying to convince my husband to name the child in belly Nicholas, because their is something about saints with a temper (or fiery passion as you more eloquently put it!) that just gets me. We haven’t found out our baby’s sex, but with two little boys,Thomas (3) and Francis (20 months) tearing about, I am pretty sure that this one is also a boy. Thank goodness the morning sickness seems to be nearly through, so I have managed to get off the cold floor and get our Advent traditions started.

    This is the first year our oldest is grasping Christmas and Advent. Both the boys are crazy about the wrapped up books (thank you Carrots!). They open one each night. I had to raid our local library as I realised we only had four Christmas books! They are loving hunting down Mary and Joseph each morning and showering them with kisses and sending them on their way to Bethlehem. (This year we are travelling across South Africa on Christmas Eve to our new home, and we actually are spending Christmas Eve in a motel just outside a little town called Bethlehem!)

    We are new converts to Catholicism (well, 9 December marks my third year of being Catholic!). I am loving the structure celebrating the liturgical year gives. We have not yet decided about Santa, and have not really had to decide yet. The boys will have their shoes filled with little toys this St Nicholas day. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to keep their new shoes for Friday because the ground is too hot now that summer is here and their old sandals just didn’t fit.

    • Haley says

      Ah, so glad you’re starting to feel better in time for Advent. To be truthful, morning sickness is the greatest struggle for me (and why we’re doing NFP to avoid for a few months while I try to get as healthy as possible to HOPEFULLY improve matters during the next pregnancy, God willing.) So, I feel ya sister. I know that cold floor well :)

  5. says

    You have inspired me to get serious about St. Nicholas. I was just thinking about what I’m going to do for his feast day today. I have a recipe for speculoos cookies from my great grandmother who immigrated from Belgium to the US, and I just realized a couple weeks ago that these spice cookies are traditionally made on the feast of St. Nicholas! Just in time! I usually make them like icebox cookies (roll them into a long tube and slice thin with a knife) but this year I’m going to try rolling them out and using a Santa Claus cookie cutter on them. Really wish I could find a Dutch wooden Sinterklaas mold, but whadyagonnado? As it happens I also have a LOT of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus figurines and ornaments that were given to me by my grandma, so I guess it would be an appropriate time to bust those babies out!

    • Haley says

      Oh how neat! Love those beautiful traditions getting passed down. I make pies every Thanksgiving with my dad–his grandmother’s recipe–and it makes me feel very connected to my great grandmother and grandmother that I never got a chance to know.

  6. Kelly says

    My husband and I were both raised Catholic. Neither of our families celebrated St. NIcholas day and both had Santa traditions on Christmas morning. When our oldest was a baby (toddler, really) we continued that same Santa tradition. Now that our kids are 6, 4, and 2 I have no idea how to get off that train! How could we stop that tradition and start the other (or even just alter things to shift the focus). Anybody have ideas on how to continue the magic of the season when the kids have already embraced certain traditions?

    • Haley says

      That’s such a good question, Kelly. I don’t think kids need to believe in Santa for the season to be magical, but I can see the difficulty of making a transition out of the Santa stuff. I would just make a really big deal out of St. Nick’s Day and do Santa-related things then. And you could discuss how Santa in the form of St. Nicholas is a real person and what we can learn about loving God from his life. I’d be really interested to have some others weigh in on this one. I’m sure you could handle it in many different ways very effectively and I’m sure you’ll figure out what’s just right for your sweet family :)

  7. melanie says

    We are Byzantine Catholic so St Nicholas Day is a big deal. We decided when we got married that we would have our stockings on St Nicholas Day. We figured that the tradition of stockings originated with the shoes that the children put out for St Nicholas Day. It takes some of the gifting out of Christmas so we can better focus on Christ. On Christmas day we do not give our children individual gifts. We have a few family gifts instead. We do celebrate with my in-laws and they give the children individual gifts on Christmas Day. Then for the week between Christmas & New Years, I space out the children’s gifts from my parents, my grandmothers’, and their aunts & uncles… way too many gifts! If we had the 12 days of Christmas, I think I would try to space them to cover those days, but on our calendar, the celebration of the Nativity ends on December 31st. We do not do Santa Claus. He doesn’t stop here at all. The one thing I try to drill into my kids at this time of year is that “Santa is a nice story, but Christmas is about Baby Jesus!”

    • Haley says

      Oh, I love hearing about how you do gift-giving. That’s very similar to what I tell my kids about Santa. “It’s a great story that is really fun for families to pretend and imagine about.” And then I start talking about St. Nicholas and what he teaches us about loving Jesus ; )

  8. Sue says

    Love the smocked dresses. I have noticed them in several other pictures you have posted. I used to love making smocked dresses for my girls, especially at Christmas and Easter. I even made some smocked rompers for my son when he was really little. Does someone make them for you or are you a smocker too?

    • Haley says

      I received several sweet dresses as baby gifts or as hand-me-downs (this is a hand-me-down from a friend.) I don’t have any sewing skills, but I think smocked dresses are just so precious.

  9. Ashley says

    This is our first Christmas with a baby, so we’re trying to figure out what we are going to do. I love hearing about what other Catholic families do, so thanks for sharing.

    In regards to gift giving, how is that handled with your family members? Do you exchange with siblings, friends, etc?

    • Haley says

      We keep it SUPER simple, Ashley. It’s not to hard for us, because gift-giving isn’t Daniel’s love language or mine, so it’s not as hard for us as it would be for someone who really loved gift-giving. We don’t exchange gifts with my side of the family at all (my family never did big Christmas gifts) but we do exchange gifts with my in-laws and my SILs family on Christmas Day. I think my in-laws make it very easy for everyone because they ask us in advance what kind of gifts we would like the kids to receive. We don’t exchange gifts with friends at all. I would like to start a tradition of giving cookies or something to friends in between Xmas and New Years, though. That would be fun!

  10. Erin says

    We stuff our stockings for St. Nicholas Day rather than shoes. Because we give only a want, need, wear, and read gift on Christmas Day, there are usually a few toys, books or other prizes I want to sneak in and the stocking seems to be a good place to do that, far enough away from Christmas that the day doesn’t get drowned in materialism. Shoes don’t leave much room for more than a few treats.

    • Haley says

      They are from a company called Lil’Fut: http://www.lilfutandcompany.com/

      I was singing their praises to a commenter above, but really, they’re my favorite shoes for babies and toddlers! So good for toddlers learning to walk and they don’t slide off because they’re tied and they hold up so well. Also, made out of recycled material so I feel good about the purchase :)

  11. says

    This is such a sweet idea. I’ve been learning more and more about St. Nicholas this year and this would be a really fun way to bring his story into our celebrating. Thanks for sharing how you celebrate it!

  12. Vanessa K says

    Our oldest is 4 and since we had her I’ve been trying to navigate the whole Santa/St. Nicholas thing. With grandparents and kids at preschool, Santa has become a pretty big idea in the girls’ heads now even with us trying to steer them toward St. Nicholas. What I can’t figure out is this: I can understand wanting to foster that magic of childhood where everything is a little mysterious and they bask in the wonderment of it all. But like today when we celebrated St. Nick’s feast day, the girls were asking if St. Nick really came and left candy in their shoe and if the horse really ate the carrots. I think I mumbled something and said – hey candy! And then they were confused as to why St. Nicholas, if he is Santa, would be taking pictures with kids in Home Depot. I’m just trying to find the line between encouraging imagination and telling them how it is. Sorry for the novel, I just thought maybe you could tell me how you do it.

    • Haley says

      I think it REALLY depends on what your family wants to do and that there’s not a “right answer” that works for everyone. My parents were very up front with me about the fact that Santa didn’t actually ride in a sleigh and bring presents and I tend to take the same line with my kids. So, when asked, I say, “No, he doesn’t really do that in real life, but lots of children like to pretend and families enjoy imagining that the presents are from Santa, etc.” Or we talk about, “St. Nicholas was a very generous man and he can teach us to be generous, too. That’s the reason people give gifts in honor of St. Nicholas, etc.” So, I’m probably more up front than most, but the kids still seem to think it’s the greatest so, I don’t think they’re really missing out on any magic ; ) I’m sure whatever way you handle it with your kids will be just right for your family!

  13. Rebecca Newport says

    We are Eastern Orthodox. When we converted (about 14 yrs ago) we developed a special fondness for St. Nicholas. We began that first year putting our shoes out. (Being staunch Baptists–my husband was a pastor–prior to conversion, we NEVER did Santa. ;) ) On the Eve, we read the story of St. Nicholas. Our children (I have 9) get chocolate coins , nuts, an orange and other treats. I also pick up a few dollar store toys for them. They also get a new pair of socks—usually fuzzy ones. We also decorate on St. Nicholas Day–even though our Advent begins November 15th, St. Nicholas Day feels like the beginning.

  14. says

    I love the idea of giving a new pair of shoes and making this a bigger day in the Christmas picture. My hope of celebrating this day was thrown off this year by a car accident, but fortunately my 1 year old didn’t know the difference…and we have so many St. Nicholas’ days to come! Thanks! :)

  15. Alice Aguilar says

    I grew up in a secular German home, so despite minimal religion, St. Nicholas day has always been part of advent. Ironically, when I first told my cradle Catholic husband about it he thought I was making it up.
    We’ve adapted the holiday a bit. My kids leave their letters for St. Nick / Santa in their shoes and he writes back to them and leaves a few chocolate coins and a book about Jesus (and usually about Christmas). This avoids going to see Santa anywhere, because while I have no problems with the legend of Santa, I find the Santas at the mall very creepy.

    “St. Nick’s” letter is one of the ways we keep Christ in Christmas. As St. Nicholas day is early in the advent season / secular Christmas season, it sets the tone by emphasizing what the kids should focus on during advent. For our kids, Santa is St. Nicholas. Our little ones beleive that St. Nicholas loves children so much that he has been able to continue giving to them and he encourages us to help people in need as well in order to carry on his good work. I feel very comfortable with this approach because when it comes time to explain everything to the kids, we can talk about how St. Nicholas’ spirit of generosity has continued to this day (despite rampant commercialization and secularization.)

    • Haley says

      I just got a new book for the kids for this year. It’s a picture book about St. Nicholas by Demi (love her illustrations!). We also have been reading a book by Amy Neuberge called St. Nicholas the Wonder Worker.

  16. christina says

    My mom was Eastern Rite, so St. Nick’s day as well as Three Kings Day were celebrated…..and Chrismas decorations were never taken down before 3 Kings! We also still do Santa in Christmas, but keep the focus on Christ! First thing done christmas morning is putting baby Jesus in the manger of the nativity scene was always a little tradition i loved and will be doing with my little boy this year as well before the rush to do presents.

  17. says

    I LOVE this feast day! Growing up it was all about chocolate a very small gift and a movie for all five of us, and we left wishlists in our shoes the night before. After getting married, and a couple stints in Germany, my husband and I are planning on carrying on the tradition with our kids, with St. Nick celebrated on the 6th and replacing Santa with the Christkind for Christmas Day, which is another beautiful tradition from Germany.

    We both feel very strongly about keeping Christmas centered on Christ, and my husband does not want a repeat about what happened when he found out about Santa when he was a little guy — he had a hard time believing that Jesus was real too :-/ I am SO very excited we get to start these family traditions next year with baby #1 due in May :D

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