December 4, 2012

A New St. Nicholas Day Tradition by Abigail Benjamin

I became a new Catholic and new Mother at roughly the same time. So Advent ideas entered my life suddenly in an overwhelming tide. There was St. Lucy's pretty candlelight wreath, real hay for Camels under the kid's beds on the Feast of the Epiphany, and fresh green wheat grown for St. Barbara. Between pregnancy and Christmas cards, I never get around to many of my grand plans for Advent. There is one tradition, however, that I easily grabbed onto as a Catholic newbie. On the Eve of St. Nicholas Day, I fill my little children's shoes with candy.
It's such an honor to rescue our Holy Bishop from the indignity of Jiggling Santa Jello Molds. Saint Nicholas Day is a special day in my house where we separate the man from the myth. We watch an excellent children's video by CCC. We locate Turkey on the map and laugh at the modern day Santa dressed in furs. The night before his feast day each child puts her little shoe next to the front door in order for Saint Nicholas to fill it with bubble gum and chocolate.
There are two Saint Nicholas "shoe days" that are imprinted in my memory. In the first, unemployment in 2005 had stripped my family of an apartment of our own. I stood in my mother-in-law's kitchen and frantically reminded my husband "Tomorrow is St. Nicholas's Day!" God save her, my Mother-in-law gave me a tongue lashing. "What a dumb tradition. Who's heard of that? Why would you give a two year old an extra reason to eat bubble gum?" I was a new convert and she was the life-long Catholic. Until that moment, I didn't even know that I was gleaning new traditions from reading Catholic Mommy blogs that weren't practiced in most Catholic homes. I was speechless. My husband simply nodded gravely, "Oh we have to celebrate St. Nicholas Day!' He drove out in the snow and spent a precious $8 on chocolate, candy canes, and bubble gum. My husband's act reasserted the dignity of my motherhood. During that hard Advent, I couldn't give my children their own home. I couldn't buy them gifts. Yet I could still stuff their shoes with goodies on St. Nicholas Eve. I could still delight in teaching them our Catholic faith.
Fast-forward to Advent 2009. My family is now on solid economic footing (a steady job for my husband Jon and a cute apartment in the suburbs of Washington D.C). Yet, I struggled with great emotional fatigue. My heart felt worn out after an almost 3 year struggle with secondary infertility. "Oh shoot! Tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day!" I muttered. "Guess we're going to skip that this year!"
"We can't miss St. Nicholas Day!" my unflappable husband said with a grin. Despite all my protests, he insisted on making an emergency candy run at 9 PM. It was raining and we didn't own a car. That man biked 2 miles in the cold rain to get to the nearest grocery store.
I remember his grin so clearly when he came home with the loot. "I've got the candy! I saved St. Nicholas Day!" he said with a laugh. Water streamed everywhere. He held up a gigantic bag of tootsie roll assortments--the expensive kind you'd get for Halloween. Not a candy cane or Christmas Tree chocolate in sight. It was all wrong, but it was all perfect too. I'd had a bad headache all day and hadn't felt the least bit romantically inclined. Yet seeing my joyful husband, I thought "Man he sure looks cute like that!" I started kissing him in thanksgiving and it quickly led to more.
On January 1, 2010, Our Lady's Feast Day, I took a pregnancy test. It was positive. After months and months of disappointment, I finally got the +. I was stunned that after spending so long in hope and prayer, the miracle of new life happened on St. Nicholas Eve, a time I was almost too grouchy to have sex. "I almost missed this!" I told Christ with a humble whisper.
This St. Nicholas Eve, we will have five little shoes lined up against the door. My double miracle girl Tess will merit a special kiss.
St. Nicholas, patron of all children, pray for us!
Abigail Benjamin is a Third Order Carmelite and a convert to the Catholic faith.  She and her husband have five children, including miracle baby Tess who was in the NICU at the same time as my JF.  When not homeschooling Abigail writes thoughtful posts on her blog, Abigail's Alcove, that both encourage and challenge me to be a better wife, mom, woman.  She wanted to post about St. Nicholas before the feast so you'd have time to buy some candy and not have to ride your bike in the rain.

For more posts on Advent traditions and reflections check out the Advent series.

17 comments:

  1. I love this! It makes me wonder how often I miss out on God's plan.

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    1. I know, Marie, me too. I need to examine my days to see how many opportunities I might be missing.

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  2. seriously teared up over my coffee. This is beautiful.

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  3. Oh gosh. What an amazing gift.

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  4. Love the "not have to bike in the rain comment" Bonnie. You are a gem!

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  5. I bought some chocolate coins to have with the kids this year. Maybe we can make a tradition of it.

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  6. crying here! what a sweet St. Nicholas Day gift. And what an awesome husband!

    If Tess had been a boy, would you have named her Nicholas????

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    1. Kaitlin - that's a great question! Abigail, would have named her Nicholas?

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  7. This WAS beautiful. Thank you so much for this post.

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  8. So beautiful, thanks for sharing your experience of St. Nicholas Day. He is one of my go-to saints when I am feeling less than generous!

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  9. This made me tear up a bit. What a wonderful sense of humor God has!

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  10. Love this! I think a lot of us can relate to having to celebrate Christmas is someone else's home. It can be so hard to keep your family traditions. Sounds like you have a gem of a husband!

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  11. Oh Nicholas, would have been a good name choice!

    It's funny, I actually think of Tess as my "Carmel baby"--even more than my St. Nicholas baby. She was named after St. Teresa of Avila. Her boy name would have been John, after St. John of the Cross.


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  12. True to pattern, it is now 10:20 PM and my husband Jon is off buying the St. Nicholas candy for me tonight.

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  13. I loved this story. I laughed out loud reading them all. I've never celebrated st. nicholas day (maybe I will when I get married/have kids). But I have learned about his feast. We did leave our shoes out on Ephipany for La Bufana the italian good which since we are italian :)

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