by Paulette Curran.
Here in Madonna House, in numerous ways, we immerse ourselves in the seasons of Advent and Christmas. One way is by celebrating the feasts in Advent. One of the more festive of these is the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th.
Of course, everyone knows who St. Nicholas is. But, as with so many other things, our foundress Catherine told us things about him that we didn’t know.
Wasn’t he commissioned by the Christ Child himself, she told us, to come down to earth every Christmas until the end of time to tell the children of the world the story of the Holy Night? And was he also commissioned to bring them gifts, gifts that he, being a small child, was too small to bring himself?
The feast of St. Nicholas is one of the most light-hearted and childlike of our celebrations, and our ways of doing it have become traditions. (We also occasionally do something spontaneous—like the year the laundress put candy into the clean socks she returned to us.
But back to the traditional.) At supper, the scene is set and the atmosphere brightened with simple decorations at the tables, and the food is a bit more festive than usual.
Always there are gingerbread cookies, for in Russia, when Catherine was a little girl, every family baked a mammoth "St. Nick," made of gingerbread for the feast.
In Madonna House, a day or two before the feast, the kitchen crew bakes a gingerbread man for each person and a bigger gingerbread bishop, St. Nicholas, for each table. The guests and others who wish to decorate the "bishops," and no two are alike.
Then when supper is over, while we are still at the table, the guests, who are learning about Advent in their liturgy class, present to the family the story of St. Nicholas.
Since we obviously cannot do a live presentation in a newspaper, I will tell it to you.
Nicholas was born to devout Christian parents in the fourth century in the country of Myra, which is now known as Turkey. He was still a young man when he was made bishop of Lycia, the capital city and a major port. He was a much beloved bishop and became known as the father of the poor because of his care for God’s little ones.
Nicholas is greatly honored in the Eastern Church, and we in the West are indebted to our brothers and sisters in the faith in Russia, Turkey, Greece, the Middle East, and Holland for the many stories and legends that have been preserved about him.
There is a story about three sisters whose father had no money for their dowry. Nicholas got three sacks of gold coins and, under the cover of night, threw them into an open window of their house.
Another story tells about sailors whose boat was about to capsize in the stormy Aegean Sea. They called to holy St. Nicholas, and the boat came to shore safely with all its passengers and cargo intact.
Because of these and many other stories and legends, St. Nicholas became known as the patron of sailors, young people, and children.
The guests can present this story in any way they choose. It is always done simply—there’s not a lot of time to rehearse—but imaginatively. And of course, it is done differently every year. Most years, the guests act it out—though they’ve found other ways too. More than one group, for example, has used puppets.
You can imagine some of the dramatic possibilities: young girls loudly lamenting, small bags flying through the air and landing with clinks or bangs, young girls dramatically rejoicing, a cardboard boat rocking wildly above a constantly moving blue bedsheet, etc., etc.
I don’t think we have ever had a presentation that wasn’t delightful.
Finally, after the laughter and the applause have ended, someone announces that a very special visitor has just arrived. We are all attention as in walks St. Nicholas—a guest dressed as a bishop. St. Nicholas then walks around the dining room delivering gifts—a special kind of gift.
He carries a basket with the names of each person present, each name one printed on a small decorated card. Each person draws a card from the basket. The person whose name you receive is your gift—the person for whom you will pray in a special way for the coming year.
This is just one of the many ways Madonna House celebrates during the Advent and Christmas seasons. The book Donkey Bells tells about lots more. It is available from Madonna House Publications (Phone 1-888-703-7110).
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