Advent and Christmas are my favorite time of the year, or it used to be. Three years ago, my father died on December 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas. It was my favorite celebration in the season of Advent, marking the start of the Advent/Christmas season in my home. We always celebrated the feast day in style. St. Nicholas would come to visit the night of December 5th. He filled Christmas stockings for the children to find in the morning. Over the course of the day, we would read books about St. Nicholas, watch movies about him, talk about him, do activities, and spend time in prayer. In the evening, we would have company come over to share a meal with us. I would prepare a big feast with traditional Dutch foods such as Runderlappen. It was always a beautiful day.
That was until my father died. I received the call that he had passed in the wee hours on the morning of December 6, 2014. He was battling terminal lung cancer and had entered hospice care the previous day. However, I never imaged he would pass so quickly. We didn’t celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day that year. The boys received their stockings, only because they had already been laid out the night before. I spent the day laying in bed, alternating between crying and sleeping. Mark canceled dinner.
For the next two years, we didn’t celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas beyond stockings. I just didn’t have it in me. 2016 was terrible, I had one of the worse chronic pain flares of my life, and ended up in the ER. After that, I mostly gave up celebrating. I was furious with my dad for having the audacity to die on one of my favorite saint’s feast day. (Which I know is unreasonable on my part.) I didn’t know how I would ever reclaim the joy of St. Nicholas Day.
This year my oldest two sons’ expressed that they missed our St. Nicholas celebrations. They wanted more than just stockings. I had no clue how I was going to pull off a happy day of fun. How do you reclaim joy from death? Losing my father devastated me, I had no clue how I was supposed to come back from that.
However, somehow I had to find a way. I turned to prayer. I spent the two weeks from Thanksgiving to December 6, praying. I prayed for joy. I prayed for the ability to live in the moment. As an insurance policy, I called some friends and invited them to dinner, knowing I would feel bad if I canceled. I may have also done a little retail therapy in preparation for the day. Stockings sort of overflowed this year.
However, I did manage to pull off our traditional St. Nicholas Day celebration, for the first time since my father died. We read several books about him, including a new one. We watched the CCC of America movie, Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa. (All their titles are amazing, and I highly recommend them.) We spent time in prayer and talking about everything we had to be grateful for. Lastly, I cooked a terrific meal of twice baked potatoes, Runderlappen, corn, salad, and rolls. Our friends brought Speculatius cookies. Everyone ate and laughed. The children played. The adults visited. At the end of the night, as I was tucking in my oldest son he told me, “Mommy, I am so glad we celebrated like we use too. Thank you for putting aside your sadness to be my mommy and make the celebration happen,” those words cemented the joy I worked so hard to reclaim. It will help ensure that I can find joy year after year on December 6th. I will always mourn my dad, but now I know I can miss him and still celebrate St. Nicholas Day with my family.
Here is a list of some of our very favorite books about St. Nicholas.
- The Legend of St. Nicholas by Demi
- The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan
- A Gift from St. Nicholas by Christine Bolley
If you want to learn more about St. Nicholas and how to celebrate his feast day check out the St. Nicholas Center.