Wednesday, December 5, 2007

St. Nicholas: From Austria to Long Island

How lovely that it should snow here on Long Island on the vigil of the Feast of Saint Nicholas! It also snowed lightly on the First Sunday of Advent. I do believe this is a sign of special blessings to come this Christmas.

I have been entranced with my current reading of “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers”, by Maria Augusta Trapp. (A review will soon follow.) My timing in reading this wonderful story could not have been better, as Maria seems to mark the events of her life by its closeness to Advent. The First Sunday of Advent was a time looked to with great excitement. The family would light the first Advent candle and from then on meet nightly under the Advent Wreath, which was hung from the ceiling in the family room.

Austrian children were not visited by Santa Claus. Rather, all the children of God wrote a letter to the Christ Child on the first Sunday in Advent. They asked for their secret wishes and made a personal promise to the Christ Child. They put the letter on the window sill and hoped it would be taken. Good children’s letters were taken faster but naughty children were kept waiting a few nights.

On the vigil of the Feast of Saint Nikolaus (Dec. 6), Saint Nikolaus would visit, dressed in his Bishop’s vestments and mitre. He was followed by the Krampus, a black devil. Nikolaus asked the children questions from the catechism. He mentioned all the sins that had been committed throughout the year. Naughty children must promise to mend their ways or the Krampus would threaten to take them away. The good Saint would never allow this to happen and always believed the children’s promises.

The Christ Child and his angels came down from heaven on Christmas Eve to personally deliver gifts to his children.

Tonight Saint Nicholas will come to fill my children’s stockings. We are late writing our letters, as I have just discovered this beautiful tradition, but my intention is for the children to put them into their stockings before bed.

Another nice tradition I discovered this week was that of the Advent Prayer Bead Box. Each child has his or her own box. Each time the child does a good deed he receives a bead to put in his box. On Christmas Eve she puts the box under the tree as her gift to the Christ Child.

After all, Christ gave himself as the ultimate gift to us. Christmas is not a time to ask what he can do for us, but to thank him for himself and ask what we can do for him.

Above: Gentile da Fabriano's 15th century painting,
"Saint Nicholas Saves a Ship from Sinking,"

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