At Evie’s school, parents can sign up to come in and talk about a holiday that they celebrate. This is a great tradition, and we have learned a lot about Eid, Diwali, Kwanzaa, St. Patrick’s Day, and Hanukkah. Evie really wanted me to talk about a special holiday that we celebrate, which is St. Nicholas Day.
St. Nicholas Day is a much smaller holiday, and none of the other kids in her class celebrate it, though several were familiar with it through friends. I decided that we would have the kids take their shoes off and line them up, so Evie could put a clementine in each one (something she was VERY proud to do), while I read a story about St. Nicholas.
There are lots and lots of stories about St. Nicholas, including a set of stories that we read leading up to St. Nicholas Day every year, but I couldn’t find just the right one that covered everything I wanted to cover. So I wrote my own, based in a large part off of a few of the stories at the link above.
So after a short discussion, this is what I read to her class:
You know how the year is 2014? The real person Nicholas lived back in the 300s, before they even used four numbers for the year. So about 1,700 years ago! That’s a really long time ago, right? Most of the people who were alive back then have been forgotten for a long time, but Nicholas was so generous that we still remember him now, 1,700 years later. Imagine how generous you would have to be, to be remembered longer than anyone else who was alive at the same time as you!
Nicholas was a priest, and eventually he got a promotion to bishop. A bishop is sort of like the boss of many priests. Bishops often wear a really tall hat (sometimes the more important you are, the bigger your hat is) and carry a big staff with a shepherd’s crook on the end. Nicholas also had a long white beard and wore white robes and a long red cloak, which is kind of like a cape. (Like Superman)
Nicholas was actually rich. His family had lots and lots of money. When you’re rich it’s maybe a little easier to give SOME of your money to people who need it, but Nicholas gave ALL of his money to people who needed it. But, he didn’t just give it all at one time, he gave it little by little to lots of different people.
Remember that Nicholas was very, very generous, so into his clothes, and his red Superman cloak, he sewed many, many pockets, and he would keep things in there to give to people. Maybe some coins, or a little toy, or a cookie, whatever he could give to someone that would help them out, or make them feel happy.
So let me tell you a story about St. Nicholas.
In the city that Nicholas lived in, there was a family that was very poor. The father worked hard all day long for not very much money. The mother was sick and needed special medicine that they couldn’t afford. They had a little baby boy, Nikko, who was sad and cried all the time, and a daughter, Alexis, that was 7 years old.
Oh, let me tell you about Alexis. I’m sad to tell you, Alexis was very, very selfish. She didn’t like to let anybody have a turn at things, and she only played games if she knew she could win. Naturally, people stopped playing with Alexis, and she became very lonely. She even refused to share her toys with her little brother, Nikko. Maybe that’s why he was always crying, who can say.
The only thing that made everyone happy was when the father would come home in the evening and play the fiddle. Nikko would stop crying, Alexis would smile for once, and the mother would feel better. It was a wonderful time.
Until the poor father broke a string on his fiddle, and he couldn’t play anymore.
This is a sad family, right?
Now, Bishop Nicholas knew this family very well. He knew all the families in the city, and he always seemed to know just exactly what they needed. And remember, nothing made Nicholas happier than helping people and giving them secret little gifts whenever he could.
In this city it was very, very muddy, so many people would take their shoes or boots off and leave them on the porch by the door so they wouldn’t track mud through the house. So while the family was sleeping, St. Nicholas crept up onto the porch and put a present into each person’s shoe.
In the morning, when the family came outside to put their shoes on, they found a little gift. When little Nikko put his foot into his shoe, he found a beautiful carved wooden train. When the mother put her foot in her shoe, she found the medicine she needed, and the father found new strings for his fiddle. They were overjoyed.
What do you think Alexis found?
(Many children guessed “nothing” or “mud”!)
When she saw how everyone else got such amazing presents, she couldn’t wait to reach into her shoe! So she reached in and pulled out…an orange.
Now Alexis was NOT very happy with her orange. Everyone had gotten something they really wanted, and all she got was a piece of fruit?
Many people in town did not know how gifts appeared in their shoes at night, but Alexis guessed that Bishop Nicholas was the one who had put the presents there. So she marched right over to Bishop Nicholas and demanded an answer.
“Bishop Nicholas!” she cried. “How could you give my brother Nikko a beautiful toy train and give me only an orange?”
“Only an orange?” said Nicholas. “Why, an orange is the best present of all! An orange is so sweet, and when you are sweet, everyone loves you!”
But Alexis, who never remembered to be sweet, stomped her foot and said, “Bishop Nicholas! How could you give me only an orange, when everyone else got just what they needed?”
Nicholas said again, “Only an orange? An orange is like a little sun. The sun shares its warmth with everyone equally, whoever they are, and therefore everyone loves the sun!”
But Alexis, who never shared anything with anyone, stomped both feet and said, “Bishop Nicholas! How could you give me only an orange? All you can do is eat it, and then it’s gone, and all you are left with are a bunch of worthless seeds!”
Nicholas smiled and said, “But Alexis, the seeds are the best part! With the seeds you can plant more oranges, and give the oranges to others. Everyone loves those who give to others.”
Alexis realized she wasn’t going to get anywhere with Nicholas and took her orange and went home in a huff. But later, when she thought about what Nicholas said about oranges and sharing, she started to see how she had not been like an orange. So, even though she ate the orange, she remembered the orange, and that helped her remember to be kind and giving. Before long, Alexis had lots of friends, and she was so kind and generous, that people called her, “Little Sunshine”.
And that’s when she knew that St. Nicholas had given her just what she needed after all.
Around this time of year, there are lots and lots of holidays that help us remember about giving, and being generous and thankful, and St. Nicholas day is another one. But hopefully we can remember all year long how to be like an orange, and the example of St. Nicholas, a man so generous that we still celebrate him 1,700 years after he was alive.
I also explained how we celebrate St. Nicholas Day by putting out our shoes and finding presents in the morning. I asked them what they thought we got, and many guessed oranges. I explained that some of the other traditional presents were chocolate coins and candy canes, which reminded us of St. Nicholas’ staff.
Finally, I let them get their shoes, and I have to say that I was surprised at how excited they were about the clementines! I was also a little surprised at how enthralled they all were with the story. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m hitting the age right (you have to admit, this is a little heavy handed), but so far I haven’t gone wrong. It was certainly rapt attention; they literally had their mouths hanging open.
I guess even in this day and age, children are just hungry for well-told stories.