Last night: "Have you put out your shoes for St Nicholas?" I asked, and soon there was a line of six pairs of clean black shoes, all empty, all waiting hopefully. Would St Nicholas arrive and fill them with chocolate? It doesn't seem to matter how old our children get, Advent wouldn't be the same if they didn't join in with the traditions of St Nicholas' Eve. And anyway, adult sons enjoy chocolate just as much as little sisters.

I wrote the following story last year. St Nicholas had a reputation for being just a little bit unreliable...

Last year, St Nicholas forgot to come. Sophie couldn’t believe it. Her face fell as she peered into her shoes…nothing. They were as empty as they’d been the previous evening. There was nothing in any of the shoes, from the giant black boots at the head of the line to the small buckle-ups at the end.

‘You’re up much too earlier,” I said hastily. “Back to bed. St Nicholas probably hasn’t got here yet.” The girls dived back under their blankets.

Rustle! Rustle! Rustle! Rustle!

Some time later: “Is it time to get up yet?...Wow! Look! Two sorts of chocolate coins!”

We never intended the children to believe that St Nicholas really fills children’s shoes with gold coins. It all started off as a bit of fun. I thought we were all aware that it was a pretence. But somewhere along the way, the younger girls grew up thinking the chocolate coins were actually delivered by the patron saint of children. I suspect their older brothers are to blame. They couldn’t resist bringing a bit of magic into their sisters’ lives.

We all want to create a bit of magic for others. When I was growing up, my mother provided many magical moments for me and my sisters. She was good at playing the Santa game. She could always come up with answers to such tricky questions as, “Why is Santa wearing glasses? He could see perfectly well when he was in that other shop.”

A few weeks before Christmas, my mother would take us to the department store in the city to visit Santa. We’d whiz up to the top floor in a special rocket elevator complete with flashing lights and buttons of all descriptions. “Next stop Santa’s grotto!” announced the pilot. The doors slid open and with eyes wide, we emerged into a wondrous, snowy land. Pixies and elves were waiting to greet us. Where was Santa? He couldn’t be seen. He was deep inside his fairy tale grotto. My sisters and I joined the queue of other excited children. Soon we on our way down a sparkling, twinkling, magical tunnel that led to Santa’s enormous chair. Finally it was our turn to climb up onto Santa’s huge lap. We told the very plump old man what we wanted for Christmas. He told us to make sure we were good girls before giving us each a little gift. Of course, we were all very determined to be as good as possible, at least until Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve my mother would help us pour a glass of milk for Santa. We’d add a plate of biscuits in case he felt hungry. And a bunch of carrots for the reindeer. We put everything on a tray where Santa would be sure to see it. Then it was off to bed early because everyone knows Santa doesn’t come until all the children are asleep. How difficult it was to settle down! But finally our eyes would close and we’d be dreaming of pillow cases bulging with presents. One year I woke in the middle of the night and I was certain I saw Santa’s black boots disappearing through the doorway. At the end of my bed was a huge stack of gifts.

Yes, I have some very magical memories of Christmas because of the efforts of my mother and father.

When Andy and I had our own family we wanted to provide an exciting and magical Christmas for our children too. We started off trying to celebrate in the same way I’d known as a child. But, unlike my mother, I wasn’t very good at pretending games. I felt sure I’d forget something and then my children would be so disappointed. I didn’t want them to become disillusioned when they realised everything was not really true. I wondered if we could have an exciting and magical Christmas without keeping up the myth of Santa.

When our first children were very young, I became a Catholic. A whole new world opened up for me. I discovered something far better than the magic of Santa. It is the miracle of Jesus. The thought of God, the Creator of the World becoming a little baby and being born on Christmas Day is just beyond comprehension. The myth of Santa just pales into insignificance. We didn’t need to pretend to believe in a myth. We could believe in the Truth.

So we swapped all the Santa traditions for the traditions of Advent and I hope our children will treasure their Christmas memories just as much as I treasure mine.

I think that Santa can have a place in a Catholic celebration of Christmas. We all know the myth has its roots in a real saint. And there are so many aspects of a Santa Christmas that find an echo in the Catholic celebration: the anticipation, the waiting, the hope, the gifts, the love, the charity, the excitement, the work and sacrifice involved…If I’d had my mother’s skills at pretending…

But I can’t even remember to fill a few shoes with chocolate coins on St Nicholas’ Eve. What if I forget to do this task before I go to bed tonight? What will I say if, once again, my girls discover empty shoes on St Nicholas’ Day? Well, I could come clean and confess my forgetfulness and admit I don’t make a very good saint. How will my girls cope? Will they feel as empty as their shoes when they discover they believed in a myth? Of course not. They have something much better to believe in: the Truth. And that is all they need to have a truly magical Christmas.

In case you're wondering, Saint Nicholas did a fine job this year. Today, the children were delighted to see their shoes overflowing with chocolate. Well done, St Nicholas!

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  1. I forgot to buy chocolate coins. Tonight I will be looking through Christmas loot for any small items I can put into their shoes! Arrgghh!! See? You are not alone!!

  2. Is the chocolates in shoes an Australian tradition or an Elvis Family one?

    I'd like to borrow it; as I'd like an extra excuse to have chocolates in my shoes.

    God bless.

  3. Susan,

    I only remembered the gold coins just in time. Some years I have used gold wrapped chocolates such as crunchie bars instead. I wonder if you have these in the US. I hope you find something suitable otherwise you're going to have to do a lot of explaining why St Nicholas failed to arrive!

  4. Victor,

    Chocolates in the shoes is a Catholic tradition. Haven't you ever put out your shoes in the hope of receiving some gold wrapped chocolate coins, on St Nicholas' Eve? Perhaps you were bad and only ever received lumps of coal!

    Next year you could try leaving out your shoes (brightly polished of course) and maybe St Nicholas will stop and leave you something. I suggest you tell someone what you are doing. There's more chance St Nicholas will hear that way.

    God bless!

  5. Chocolate in shoes? This is all news to me, Sue. Maybe it's not as common in the US and UK? I loved reading about this tradition though! (Wish we DID do it!) And your Christmas memories stirred up wonderful memories for me too :) God bless!

    The pictures are great! Do you get chocolates too?

  6. My hubby will be home early in the morning... I am hoping to run up to the all night store nearby and hopefully they will have the chocolate coins. I've bought them in the past from another store.. I sure hope they have some!!

  7. Hi Mary,

    A lot of my US friends also join in with this tradition, though some put the chocolates in stockings and not shoes. I don't think the tradition belongs to any one country in particular. Now you know about it Mary, you can join in. Is it too late for this year? It is already St Nicholas' day here but we are ahead of you in time. Maybe you still have time to put out your shoes (and buy the chocolates!)

    Happy St Nicholas' Day!

  8. Susan,

    If you can't get any coins, you can use any treat or small gift. One year I put holy cards and a Christmas tree decoration in each shoe. I hope you find something!

    God bless.

  9. Chocolate in shoes? A CATHOLIC tradition?

    The only Catholic tradition we have around here is a second collection plate in church on Sunday!

    Last Sunday they asked us to pledge monthly donations - they didn't want much. One of the suggestions on the Pledge Form was £60 a month. You have to fill in this Form and give it to the priest. No doubt if you miss your Pledge he'd give you an extra penance at Confession.

    Now then ... where are those chocolate coins the Tooth Fairy left me. I'll pledge them.

    God bless.

  10. Hi Sue,
    I missed the boat this time but I won't forget next year! Looking in my sidebar today I have realized that quite a lot of people practice this tradition.

    Lol on Victor's last comment :)

  11. Victor,

    I don't think I like your Catholic tradition. Mine doesn't cost anything more than the price of a bag of gold chocolate coins.

    I shared a link for a video about St Nicholas on your FB wall. The priest in the video talks about children leaving out stockings for St Nicholas. Some families hang up stockings and some leave out shoes. It doesn't matter which you choose.

    Next year you could write a story about St Nicholas, shoes and gold coins.

    God bless.

  12. Mary,

    Each year we seem to hear about new traditions. There are so many of them. Occasionally we adopt another one we particularly like. Last year, we decided to sing a verse of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" before we lit the Advent candle at dinner. I know other families have been doing this for years but we'd only just heard about it. So many wonderful ways to celebrate Advent and Christmas!

    Perhaps you'll adopt the shoes and chocolate tradition next year!

    God bless.

  13. Hi Sue,

    I think the tradition originated by the Dutch and Europe. My sister has been doing it for years and we never did. However, I did make those really cute St. Nicholas chocolate gold coins that I'd seen on another blog. I gave them to the parents of my first grade R.E. students away from the view of their children.

    Sweet tradition for kids!

  14. Oh forgot to mention, you can go to the St. Nicholas Center website for lots of information, crafts and games to celebrate this feast day.

  15. Hi Noreen,

    I saw the St Nicholas Center link on your blog. Thank you!

    But I haven't seen the handmade St Nicholas gold coins. I wonder if you remember which blog you got the idea from. I'd love to see a picture. Did you wrap your own chocolates in gold foil? I bet your RE kids enjoyed them! I cheated and bought ours.

    Did you see the wonderful St Nicholas chocolates on Gae's blog "Cherished Hearts at Home"? She added crooks and red mitres to the usual Santa chocolates, turning them into bishops. So clever!

    Lots of new ideas for next year!

    God bless.

  16. Sorry Sue, that I've been so slow on responding to your questions! I was going through and clearing out my email and saw your question. Here is where I got it from:

    Jessica has made the St. Nicholas coins, Christmas coins and the O Antiphon coins. She's so creative and generous with her ideas and resources!

  17. Noreen,

    Thank you for returning and answering my question!

    I have heard what a wonderful blog Shower of Roses is. I should take a look!

    I will save that link for next year. Thank you!


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