Squirrels hide nuts for the long winter. Bears pack on fat for hibernation. Here at Sixoh6, we prepare for winter by stocking up on books. To help you find the best books to gift this holiday season, we’re sharing guest posts from some of our favorite parents of babies and toddlers, young children, and teens. We’ve asked our guest bloggers to share books on a theme of their choice. We hope, whether you are young or old and whether you have a lot of books to give this year or just a few, you’ll find something here that delights you and that you’ll enjoy a Jólabókaflóðið (“Yule Book Flood”) this winter.
Today’s guest post comes from Erica, educator and mother of young twin girls. She tells us why she skips Santa Clause for stories of Saint Nicholas and Saint Lucia. And since St. Nicholas’ Day isn’t until December 5 and St. Lucia’s until December 13, you have time to pick up or check out Erica’s favorite books.
Have your own favorite St. Nicholas or St. Lucia books? Let us know so we can add them to our list!
I was that kid. You know the one. The one that piped up and declared loudly to an entire grocery store that “Santa doesn’t exist!” when some sweet, unsuspecting grandmotherly-type asked what was Santa bringing me for Christmas. The one who ruined the Santa story for other kids when the topic came up at school. The one who rolled her eyes at the drivel about Santa representing the spirit of Christmas. Yup, I’m THAT kid.
My distaste for Santa has only increased as I’ve gotten older. The holiday season was hard for me when I became an elementary school teacher and was expected to spew the Holly-Jolly lines. Thankfully, I no longer teach elementary-aged children, and I can freely speak my mind (at least on this topic) to my middle school students. Now that I’ve become a parent to two feisty two-year-olds, I’ll soon need to be choosing my words wisely as I explain the Santa season. While I hope that my girls understand the truth about the Christmas story, I also hope that they don’t ruin too many family traditions along the way. I don’t wish for them to be those children.
Instead of Santa, our family focuses on celebrating Saint Nicholas and Saint Lucia days in the weeks leading up to Christmas. We spend evenings reading stories and talking about the legends surrounding both individuals, and the good work they did during their lifetimes. Christmas day itself is reserved for family, church, good food and exchanging gifts with those we love.
On December 5th, our family will be setting out shoes filled with straw, carrots and apples, in hopes that Saint Nicholas will visit our home. While the story of Santa Claus has its beginnings in the legend of Saint Nicholas, the Santa Claus version takes attention away from the story of Christ’s birth and contributes to the all-consuming commercialization of Christmas. Saint Nicholas won’t leave any incredibly pricey gifts behind in our home, but might give us each a few special snacks, some gold chocolate coins and a couple pairs of new underwear or frilly socks. By separating the story of Saint Nicholas from the American version of Santa Claus, we are able to observe and celebrate the story of Jesus’ birth on December 25th.
To prepare ourselves for Saint Nicholas day, we will be reading several books.
- One of the most treasured of my possessions is the book my mother wrote and illustrated for my sister and me when I was about three years old. In it, she wrote about Saint Nicholas and several of the stories that are part of his legend. The book is filled with hand-drawn and painted pictures of my sister and me, our “naughty and nice” list (evidently I loved to jump on furniture, but I also played well with my sister), and illustrations to accompany the Nicholas stories.
- The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Anselm Grün, illustrated by Giuliano Ferri. This book spans Nicholas’ era: the miracles that he performed; how he cared for those less fortunate and how he impacted the city of Myra as its bishop.
- Saint Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins by Jim Forest, illustrated by Vladislav Andrejev. This Nicholas story is beautifully written with easy connections to Jesus’ teachings. The iconographic style of the illustrations remind me of stained glass windows that I have seen on my travels.
In Swedish families, Saint Lucia day starts early on the morning of December 13, with smells of fresh brewed coffee, hot cocoa and saffron buns. Since I was the oldest girl in the family, I woke before everyone else, dressed in a white gown with red sash, and with candles adorning my head I brought a tray of goodies to each member of my family. I struggled to remember all the words to the Saint Lucia tune that is meant to gently wake your loved ones, and would often just sing the same words and notes over and over again. While I loved being the one who was able to have the special dress and role, I secretly wished that I was lucky enough to have breakfast in bed!
- Lucia Saint of Light by Katherine Bolger Hyde, illustrated by Daria Fisher. This is a great book to use when explaining about the martyr and how she brought light and love to those less fortunate.
- Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Rydåker, with illustrations by Carina Ståhlberg. A wonderful book that shows how a typical Swedish family would celebrate the day. There are recipes for the special Lucia buns and spicy Pepparkakor cookies (pig-shaped molasses ginger cookies); as well as the music to the Lucia song and patterns for how to make the Lucia costume.
There were many seasons when I taught elementary school that I felt like the Grinch. I felt anger over the Santa on every street corner and the general mishmash of lawn scenes–the nativity with three wise men, blow-up snow globes, shepherds tending their reindeer… Focusing on the legends of Saint Nicholas and Saint Lucia, and our family traditions, have brought back the joy and feeling of expectation that the Christmas season should be about. May each of you also feel that joy and expectation.