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Growing up, my parents did a great job of making being Catholic feel like a fun adventure, and now that I have a son of my own, it’s something I hope I can do for him too. When I started teaching religion, and even to this day and my class this year, many of my students have so little background knowledge about the faith that is seems random, and let’s face it, often really boring. Most of the things I love about the weeks leading up to Christmas- the Advent wreath, the Jesse Tree, the O Antiphons- are things they have never experienced in their homes. So from my very first year of teaching, I have always made up stories and excuses to help my students experience the wonder of Saint Nicholas Day.
There are many legends as to why Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated the way that it is, but I will just share my favorite one. Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, and in his congregation was a very poor family of a single father raising three daughters. Often, when times were especially difficult, Saint Nicholas would throw small bags of coins in through the window of the house where the family lived. The money would land in the shoes drying by the fire.
So in my family, the night before Saint Nicholas day, which is December 5th, we would leave our shoes outside our bedroom doors. When we came out on the morning of his feast day, December 6th, our shoes would be full of goodies- most often a clementine, some Andes mints and a candy cane. The tradition is an old European one, but I think my parents adopted it just to make our faith more fun for a family with lots of small kids.
At school, many of my students have no idea that it is Saint Nicholas day. Often I am able to use snow as an excuse, but for some reason, I always make them take off their shoes in religion class on December 6th. While we are working on something, the bookkeeper, my partner in spreading Catholic cheer, helps me fill the shoes with goodies.
Two books that could be good ways to share the story of Saint Nicholas (maybe while you read to your students your partner in surprise could fill their shoes!) are St. Nicholas the Wonderworker by Lily Parascheva Rowe and The Legend of Saint Nicholas.
Maybe this could be something fun to try with your class or your own family this year! Maybe send in some pictures of your shoes and post them in the comments below. Happy almost Advent!