Some people (both Protestant and Catholic) put out stockings on December 6th to celebrate St. Nick's Day. They do this because of the following story, taken from St. Nicholas Center:
One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. (http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/)He ended up becoming the Bishop of Myra, and of course, later, a saint. Some say he is the inspiration for the present day Santa Claus, while many others would debate that, saying that Santa Claus was actually created to boost sales at Christmas time. Either way, it could be a very meaningful activity to talk about this Church Father with our kids in order to lead into a discussion on the values of generosity, compassion, and caring for the poor around and among us.
Additionally, it can be fun and transforming to include the kids in this season of generosity. For a lot of kids, Christmas ends up being about what they get (much to the dismay of us parents). Here are a few ways that I've come up with on modeling and practicing generosity in this season:
- Create small ornaments (as a family) to put inside Christmas cards, saying short prayers for the recipients.
- Consider volunteering at an outreach center as a family on Christmas morning.
- Bake and decorate sugar cookies and then give them out on the train/subway to people who look like they need a little Jesus love.
- Invite people who are without family (including internationals!) in the area to your house Christmas Eve/Day, and have them to fully engage in your traditions.
- Talk about the need of clean water in many parts of the world, and then give money to help build wells, instead of buying presents for each other. For a GREAT children's book on this topic, see http://cleanwaterforelirose.com/.
- Visit a local nursing home with a group of friends to spread some Jesus love during this very lonely time for many of the older generation.
- Before holiday gifts start rolling in from family and friends, have each member choose one or two "toys" (whatever that looks like for you as a grown-up) to donate to someone else.