By the grace of God, I am a Catholic, although most of my ancestors were not. Just one of my great-grandmothers was a Catholic, but her faith converted her husband and they brought up Catholic children, including my grandmother. She repeated this story, marrying a non-Catholic, and her husband converted. Then their son, my father, married a woman who had not been raised Catholic, and she converted. (And then of course I married a man who was not a Catholic when we met, but converted before we married—I had to keep up this family tradition!) The Faith continues to spread, and looking back I am so grateful to God for bringing the Faith to me through this slender branch of my family.
Through all of this converting and sharing the Faith, a dearly beloved family tradition got shared through the generations. Great-Grandma’s family was old German Catholic stock, and they celebrated the feast of the fourth-century bishop St. Nicholas of Myra on December 6 by having each person put one of his shoes out the evening before for St. Nicholas to fill with candy during the night. The children were told to remember St. Nicholas’ generosity. In my Grandma’s time she said they received just a few pieces of store-bought candy in each shoe, and what a treat that was for a poor (but happy!) family during the Depression!
By the time my father brought the tradition to our family, times were much better: we each got to put out two shoes! My parents added a beautiful tradition to St. Nicholas’ Day inspired by a secular tradition from my mother’s family. Besides candy, each of us four children would receive a special ornament in our shoes year by year as the family grew up. They were part of a set, so it was fun to hunt for all of our ornaments together from each year, as we put up the tree. (We first put up our Christmas Tree on this happy day, too.) Also, we wrote letters to St. Nicholas and put them in our shoes on the night of December 5, asking him to bring us good things on Christmas morning, and thanking him (sometimes, when we remembered!) for his generosity to us. It brought so much joy to anticipate Christmas with this feast day of the Patron Saint of Children.
This is a common custom among Catholics that has been treasured in my family for generations. If you have a young family and have never done this, it’s lots of fun. If you don’t have children yet, beginning this custom with them when they are young will provide years of memories for all of you to cherish. And–if you are currently or have formerly celebrated St. Nicholas’ Day in your families with some different traditions than I have mentioned, please share in the comment boxes below. I’d love to hear!