Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Feast of Saint Nicholas

I am, sadly, late in posting this. Thanksgiving was so late this year that I'm struggling a bit to stay on top of ALL that happens just after it! I usually have a week, or at least a few days to prepare, but this year it is all happening rather suddenly.

That being said, this Friday, December 6 is the The Feast of Saint Nicholas, which is one of my favorite days of the Advent season.  So I'm going to throw a LOT of idea at you in the hopes that if you decide to observe and celebrate it, you'll find at least a few of them doable. I am not even sure what our plans are at this point, though I did pick up a cute pair of seasonal socks for Kate last night, along with a little bag of gold coins. I've got my eye on a few books I'm considering adding to my personal library, but I'm going to wait until after a make a quick trip to Charlottesville tomorrow before I make any final decisions. If I do buy them I'll order them on Friday at best! And before I ramble on too long, here's a bit about the history of this feast day, as well as ideas that you can borrow from to observe and celebrate it!

~ Enjoy!

HISTORY - from the St. Nicholas Center
As we wait for God to become incarnate, we look to the whole body of Christ, past and present, for models of embodied faith. The commemoration of saints has been a part of Christian worship since the second century.

Today we remember Saint Nicholas, who was the Bishop of Myra in the province of Lycia during the fourth century. Very little is known about his life, but he is remembered as a man of great faith and compassion. He was also a fierce advocate for those who had been unjustly condemned. But he left behind no writings: the legends surrounding his life are all we have.

Nicholas is most well known in the West as the beloved patron saint of children and gift-giving. His connection to the American character of Santa Claus is faint, but it can be traced. According to tradition, Nicholas’ parents died when he was young, leaving him a large sum of money. With his inheritance, Nicholas practiced charity, helping those in need.

One legend in particular illustrates his generosity: a family in his community was desperate; the father had lost all of his money and had been unable to find husbands for his three daughters. The daughters were in danger of being given over to prostitution or another form of degradation when, one night, Nicholas appeared at their home. He tossed three bags of gold into the open window (or down the chimney, in some versions)—thereby saving them from a terrible fate. This tale is probably the source of his eventual connection to the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas.

The custom of giving gifts on Saint Nicholas’ feast day probably originated in Europe among Protestants. The Reformation had led many Protestants to all but abandon the remembrance of the saints. But Saint Nicholas remained a popular figure, especially among children, who received gifts in his name on December 6. The custom spread with immigration to North America when Dutch children told their English-speaking friends about “Sinter Klaas,” the bishop in red vestments who brought them surprises on his feast day. The American mispronunciation—Santa Claus—eventually took on a life of its own. This jolly Saint Nick also delivered gifts through the chimney, but on Christmas rather than the saint’s day. He wore a red suit rather than liturgical vestments, though he still vaguely resembled the old depictions of Nicholas, which showed him with bald head and full beard.

Aside from the obvious disparities between Saint Nicholas and the secular Santa Claus, perhaps the most poignant difference between them can be seen in the nature of the gifts they give. While Santa has his bundle of toys, the gift that Saint Nicholas gives is nothing short of freedom from poverty and desperation. The life of Saint Nicholas is an example of faith made flesh in actions of true charity.

GIVING
Ways you can observed The Feast of St. Nicholas with your family
- Collect gently used toys no longer needed and donate them to a local women's shelter.
- Or, make a donation to Toys For Tots
- Participate in Operation Christmas Child

CELEBRATING
- Have your children leave their shoes by the fireplace or at a designated location in your home on the night before the feast day (December 5).  After they have gone to bed fill them with gold coins (Affiliate Link), if you don't need a pound, I've seen individual bags for $1 at Target and Walmart. You can also include an orange, some nuts and a new pair of Christmas socks, or a new Christmas ornament for each child for the tree. Other ideas could include a chocolate Santa or a new Santa mug for drinking hot chocolate in during the season.These are the items we traditionally included when the girls were younger. In our homeschooling years it was also traditionally the day that we added seasonal Christmas books to our home library.

Here are a few suggestion:

Books Related to Saint Nicholas 
(All listings are Affiliate Links)
- The Real Santa Claus
- Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend
- The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters To Christmas
- Saint Nicholas And The Nine Gold Coins
- The Miracle of Saint Nicholas
- The Legend of St. Nicholas

Books Related to Santa Claus
(All listings are Affiliate Links)
- Yes, Virginia There Is A Santa Claus
- The Santa Claus Chronicles: Heartwarming Tales From A Real Life Santa
- Jolly Old Santa Claus
- Santa Claus: The Book of Secrets
- Santa Claus: The Book of Secrets Coloring Book
- Dear Santa: Children's Christmas Letters and Wishes 1870-1920
- The Night Before Christmas
- The Night Before Christmas - My favorite edition!
- The Night Before Christmas - illustrated by Gennady Spirin, another favorite!
- The Book of Santa Claus - beautiful vintage illustrations!

We also include movies from time to time, and while there are any number of movies related to Santa Claus (just Google!), I always preferred movies such as these; (I'll be posting a list of my favorite seasonal /Christmas movies this weekend!
Movies Related to Santa Claus
(Unless noted, All listings are Affiliate Links)
- Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus - Beautiful Movie
- Christmas Story (not the one with the leg lamp!) - Available free if you have Prime! (Non-Affiliate)

Food for The Feast Day
- Make a Candy Cane Coffee Cake for breakfast, or this Cherry Cheese version.
- Or, you might prefer St. Nicholas Day Donuts, or a Mini Stack of Santa Pancakes.
- We traditionally made these cute Santa pancakes!
- Along with at hot mug of Saint Nicholas Hot Cocoa, you could also make these to give as gifts!
- Make some Nutter Butter St. Nicholas cookies, so cute!
- This Miter Cake is lovely and would be nice if you were hosting a St. Nicholas Day gathering with friends!
- We made Santa Shakes for years, but for the life of me I cannot find the recipe, but this Candy Cane Shake is similar, and would be fun to share while watching a special movies

Special Touches
- Join together for a Saint Nicholas feast day devotional, here are some resources to assist you.
- You might also want to include, A Prayer to Saint Nicholas.
- Jessica at Shower of Roses has made these lovely images of Saint Nicholas to adorn your gold coins with.
- Make this cute Saint Nicholas ornament.

More Ideas and Inspiration!
You can find more information about St. Nicholas including ways to celebrate at The St, Nicholas Center, as well as Catholic Icing.


Monday, December 2, 2019

Still and Simple

Last week was a whirlwind of activity, from preparing for Thanksgiving in the days before, and for Christmas in the days after, I think I was on my feet for 8+ hours several days in a row, and yesterday, my body was feeling it.

But then, not surprisingly on the first day of the Advent season, the first day of The Year of the Lord, everything settled into a still and simple silence. Our church body did not meet yesterday, and so we were gifted with a slow Sunday of quiet reflection. It rained, a slow steady rain for most of the day, cool, but not so much that we couldn't keep the patio door cracked a bit to let in some of that brisk wintry air. We're weird like that, we prefer for the air around us to be cold as we huddle under thermal pajamas and blankets. We haven't turned on the heater once this season, so far.  Every year it seems we stretch it out longer and longer, so much that I'm beginning to wonder if we'll turn it on at all this year. We shall see.

Because in past years our Sunday Advent readings have often gone unobserved, this year in addition to putting out our candle display (I'll share that later), I made up these little devotionals, one for each Sunday of Advent. After I printed them and cut them out, I then rolled each one into a tiny scroll, tied it with a pretty red ribbon and tucked them inside the little drawstring bag you see there in the corner.  I lightly numbered each one on the outside, and last night we unrolled the first one, shared the scripture together, lit the candle and listened to the most beautiful almost haunting rendition of O Come, O Come Emmanuel I've ever heard.  It's become a tradition to listen to it every Sunday leading up to Christmas. Beautiful.

Earlier in the week I had casually mentioned in a conversation with Bill that I had never seen real mistletoe before. I didn't mean anything by it, just stating a fact, really, but unbeknownst to me, he took it to heart.

And so on Saturday night after returning home from a long day of work, he came bearing gifts, fresh mistletoe and holly branches that he had purchased earlier in the day at the market.  And let me just say, I am in love! I never knew mistletoe was so beautiful, and it's sad, really, that its poisonous.  I was going to hang it above the doorways, as tradition would call for, but it's especially dangerous if a pet ingests the small berries, so that will have to wait until closer to Christmas. For now I have it tucked in water in a pretty mason jar (I moved it from the one shown in this photo), and sitting on the coffee table with our Advent candle display.  Every time I look at it, I smile. This man, I really have to watch myself when I say I've never seen, done or want something. He's all about making my dreams come true.

I began my personal Advent devotional this morning. I am reading the book All Creation Waits (Affiliate Link) and I even purchased a devotional supplement, Unearthing Wonder: A Family Guide to Advent published by Peaceful Press (Non-Affiliate). Even though it is designed primarily for families with young children, in all of my years of homeschooling one thing I've learned is that learning and knowledge knows no limits when it comes to age, and we adults are equally as influenced at times by the simple words that can be found within the pages of "children's" books. In fact, children's literature is probably my favorite genre. Call me a kid at heart, I'll proudly wear the banner! And this case is no exception.

Each day of Advent the book and devotional focus on a different animal, and it began with the painted turtle. Painted turtles are rather special to me because my husband has a mild affection for them. But before reading this devotional I was, honestly, a bit repulsed by them. Something about that long neck sticking out of that shell, I don't care for frogs, either. But the illustration that was used in today's devotional touched me in a profound way. Did you know that every year on a day in late fall, a painted turtle takes one last deep breath before it plunges into the pond and burrows down deep in the warm mud at the bottom where it then remains for six months?

"She found her bottom place, closed her eyes and dug into the mud. She buried herself. And then pulled into her shell, encased in darkness . . .
AND SETTLED INTO A DEEP STILLNESS.

Encased beneath the frigid waters,

EVERYTHING IN HER HAS GONE SO STILL, SHE DOESN'T NEED TO BREATHE.

The iced over pond will soon be empty of oxygen. Sunk in the bottom muds, she slows herself beyond breath in a place where breath is not possible. 

It is her one work.

It is the radical simplicity of this act that will save her, and deep within it, at the heart of her stillness, something she has no need to name, but something we might call . . .

TRUST

that one day, yes, the world will warm again, and with it her life."

- All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings

I don't know about you, but for me, I don't think I'll ever look upon a painted turtle in the same way again.

It settles itself in a place so deep, so near death, and yet it is this RADICAL SIMPLICITY, that saves her. Were she to remain above water, she would freeze to death, or become so lethargic that she would become easy prey. And so she dives into the deep, dark mud, depleted of oxygen, and trusts that He, Yahweh, will sustain her, Her ability to squelch the urge to rush up to the surface to draw a breath, allows her to live.

It becomes, her salvation.

I don't ever want to forget the lesson I learned from this passage. From the turtles ability to sense the seasons and to be . . .

STILL AND SIMPLE 

when it is needed.

"Stillness and simplicity can surely save us from stress and anxiety, and from a Christmas that is characterized by anything but peace on earth good will to men."

- Unearthing Wonder: A Family Guide To Advent

This Advent, I am vowing to remember the turtle, and follow in its slow and simple path. In these long, cold days of darkness, I want to pull in the warmth all around me and trust that the sun will return, that truly, the SON will return! To become so still and so dependent upon the Father, that I almost forget to breathe, and trust Him to sustain me! Yah - Breathe in, Weh - Breathe out.  Have you ever considered, that the very sound of our breathing speaks His name?

"I will wait in patience and praise you more and more!"

- Psalm 71:14


Thursday, November 28, 2019