Military & Advent Traditions: St Nicholas Day

There are many positives to our PCS (Permanent Change of Station) moves during our time in the Army. We turned every move into a family vacation, we seen many areas of the country we wouldn’t normally be provided the opportunity to see, and, along the way, we picked up some wonderful traditions that we have kept since Clay retired last year. In fact, I hope our children continue these same traditions in their households when they have families of their own.

One such tradition is the celebration of Saint Nicholas Day, which also falls during Advent. Although we do not do the whole Santa Claus thing in the sense of bringing gifts, we are never opposed to imagination and having fun with jolly ole Saint Nick. Our children know where the presents come from and they also know St. Nick is a make-believe figure. They also enjoy sitting on Santa’s lap for pictures and watching the cartoons shown this time of year. Saint Nicholas Day is a perfect compromise!

What is Saint Nicholas Day?

During our Christmas Around the World studies, we learned that Saint Nicholas, not Santa, is the gift giver in many countries. Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated on December the 6th each year in order to recognize Nicholas Myra, the real Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was born around 245 AD in the port city of Pataca in present day Turkey. Nicholas lived in Greece and officiated as Bishop in the 4th Century. He was the patron saint of children, sailors, students, teachers, and merchants.

That is how Father Christmas, Santa, Papa Noel, and other names for gift giving came to be. Many wanted to relive the blessed joy that Saint Nicholas himself bestowed on so many. Saint Nicholas was a devout man of God who didn’t just say he followed the Lord, he lived it. His primary focus was on giving and to do this he gave abundantly to the poor. The true story of Saint Nicholas is a wonderful story and his legacy points children to the heart of the season which is Jesus.

When we decided to do away with the jolly fat man wearing red and flying around in a sleigh full of toys pulled by eight flying reindeer, participating in Saint Nicholas Day was a wonderful substitute. We struggled with lying to our children and wondered if this would affect their belief in God later on. After all, they can’t see Jesus, but we teach our young children to have faith in a Savior they can not physically see. He sees everything you do.

The story of Santa is similar. We wanted no room for confusion. In fact, it all began with our oldest son. At the time, we lived in an apartment. He knew the story of Santa. He asked to leave out cookies in milk every year, which my husband happily took care of. As he began to ask questions, we soon found ourselves between a rock in a hard place.

“How does Santa put presents under the tree if we don’t have a chimney?”

“Well,” my husband responded, “he comes through the front door.”

“So, you leave the front door unlocked so a burglar can steal all of our things or hurt us?”

“Okay,” my hubby said, “it’s time to talk about the truth.”

We were bordering on telling one lie to cover up another, and we never wanted to lie to our kids. Period. So as we pondered and prayed about how to handle this for our family, we were blessed to learn of the wonderful tradition of Saint Nicholas Day.

How did St Nicholas Day come to be?

It all started when Saint Nicholas threw bags of dowry money down a chimney or through a window and into the home of a poor and impoverished family. The reason for doing this was to save the families daughter from being sold into slavery. He continued to give and bless others with his fortune. In return, Saint Nicholas became known as the gift giver.

So how does my family celebrate Saint Nicholas Day when we are not Catholic?

  1. Much of our homeschool studies on December 6th surround learning more about Saint Nicholas. We have books that we rotate out over the years. I also find new projects that the kids can make to help them absorb the lessons.
  2. We watch a movie about the life of Saint Nicholas and about the true story of his legacy.
  3. We find a project that we can do that will help us give to others in some ways. In past years these projects have included volunteering on military posts for various things that day, baking cookies for our neighbors, packaging treats to send to our military assigned overseas for Christmas cheer, giving in some way to Soldiers’ children who have been KIA, and volunteering at food banks. Those are just some projects that we have personally became involved in. I encourage you to tailor the list to fit your family and the needs of your community.
  4. On the night before December the 6th, I leave out Saint Nicholas Day surprises on the steps for the children to find in the morning.


Back up, Laura. What do you mean you leave gifts for your children on December 6th? Don’t you know Christmas is just 2-1/2 weeks away?!

What exactly do you leave on the steps?

I realized Saint Nicholas day is right before Christmas; however, because we have a strict three gift limit (the wise men presented baby Jesus with 3 gifts), this doesn’t spoil their gifts on December 25th. I do not buy huge gifts for Saint Nicholas Day. They are usually small but thought out. Here are some ideas:

  1. Bags of chocolate candy coins and other various candy items
  2. A small toy or two that your children would enjoy.
  3. A new book
  4. I always have something Saint Nicholas related
  5. Something religious
  6. Candy Canes! 

Saint Nicholas Day Candy Cane Blessing Prayer


Good St. Nicholas, we honor you

on this your holy feast day.

We rejoice that you are the patron saint

and the holy symbol of joy

for many people’s of many lands.

Come, great-hearted saint,

and be our patron and companion

as we, once again, prepare our homes and hearts

for the great feast of Christmas,

the birth of the Eternal Blessing, Jesus Christ.

May these sweets, these candy canes,

be a sign of Advent joy for us.

May these candy canes,

shaped just like your Bishop’s staff,

be for us a sign of your benevolent care.

We rejoice that you are the holy bringer of gifts

and that so many have been delighted

through your great generosity.

Help us to be as generous of heart.

Wherever these candy canes are hung,

on tree or wall or door,

may they carry with them

the bright blessing of God.

May all who shall taste them

experience the joy of God

upon their tongues and in their hearts.

We ask God, now, to bless

these your brightly striped sweets

in the name of the Father,

and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Now you know about Saint Nicholas Day and why my family celebrates this day.

In Awe,




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