One of my favorite Advent activities is our “Visit with Saint Nicholas”. On a Saturday morning closest to the feast day of St. Nicholas (Dec. 6), families come together to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas. I don’t have anything against Santa Claus, but he is everywhere for a long time. I wanted the children in our parish to see the other side of Christmas. So we set up long tables in our cafeteria with simple projects for the families to do (usually 7-8 projects). And the parents have to work with their children on the crafts. We make cards, place mats, jewelry, treat bags, and any other simple crafts I can come up with. There is no order, they go where they want. The secret is – it is all for children and elderly in hospitals. The first year I wondered if the children would want to take their projects home and would be very disappointed to leave them. I worried for nothing. I have been doing this for over 20 years and I have never had a child upset (I tell them up front that we are making gifts for others). As they complete their projects, they take them to a central table and it is so beautiful as those gifts multiply.
We have cookies and juice available before and during the craft portion. They can come to the refreshment table whenever they want. Then about halfway through the event (we schedule 10:00 to noon), I call them to sit in a special area and talk to them about what they have been doing. They love to tell what they have made. Then I tell them that we have a very special visitor and have them call out for St. Nicholas. Over the years, I have had several St. Nicholas’ and each has been excellent. A parishioner made a beautiful costume – white gown, red velvet type cape with gold trim, Bishop’s miter, long staff, large wooden cross necklace, and a white beard and hair so the children will not recognize him (sometimes it has been the dad of one of the children!). The children are awed. “St. Nicholas” tells them his story – brief, but about giving the gold to the daughters for their dowry and how he loves to give in secret. Each St. Nicholas has told it a bit differently but always interesting. Then the children tell him what they have just done and why. We sing some preschool type Christmas songs, then go back to finish the craft projects and St. Nicholas walks around seeing what they are doing and giving each child a gold coin, a candy cane, and a coloring book that I made with clip art (St. Nicholas coloring book).
Craft Projects for Visit with Saint Nicholas
Christmas cards – red, green and gold construction paper folded in half, cut outs from old Christmas cards, crayons and glue sticks. (I used to use glitter, but that is just too messy and I don’t think the hospitals appreciated it!)
Christmas place mats – long construction paper, cut outs from old cards, stickers, stencils, crayons, glue sticks.
Treat bags – we have done these many ways – use toiletry items in small Christmas bags, use candy in toilet paper tubes then roll Christmas paper around the roll and tie off the ends, fill small baskets with either toiletries or candies and wrap with colored plastic wrap.
Jewelry and ornament kits from Oriental Trading. Most kits are easy enough for children to do and remember the parents are doing it with them, so they usually come out very nice.