St. Francis, St. Alban’s children enjoy special visit from St. Nicholas

Published 11:18 am Saturday, December 9, 2023

For the children attending St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and the preschool and Montessori students at St. Francis Xavier Elementary School, the first week in December brings a special treat: a visit from St. Nicholas.

But this is not the St. Nicholas of Clement Clark Moore’s famous story that introduced people to Santa Claus. This the fourth century Bishop of Myra who was known for his kindness and efforts to help the poor and whose feast day falls on Dec. 6.

“St. Francis’ observance of St. Nicholas’ feast day by preschool and Montessori students at St. Francis goes back about 30 years,” said Montessori teacher Laura Kidder.

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Each Dec. 5, she said, the students leave a shoe at the school overnight. That she is filled with a chocolate coin, representing the gold coins St. Nicholas left for the poor. The children, Kidder said, never see St. Nicholas.

When the children return to school on Dec. 6, they find the coin and Kidder and St. Francis preschool teacher Amy Jackson read the story of St. Nicholas.

Because St. Nicholas’ feast day is usually during the week, the St. Nicholas tradition at St. Alban’s occurs on the second Sunday of Advent.

“The children leave their shoes outside the sanctuary in our parish hall and St. Nicholas is known for filling shoes with all kinds of treats,” said church rector the Rev. Elisabeth Malphurs, adding the treats include chocolate coins, oranges and more.

When the children get out of church and find their shoes, they usually find St. Nicholas there to meet them and tell about his life and why he is honored with a feast day. St. Nicholas also tells the children stories of helping people and how he liked to give gifts secretly.

The St. Nicholas tradition at St. Alban’s began when Malphurs arrived at the church.

“We did it in 2019 before the pandemic and then during the pandemic Christmas St. Nicholas had to wear a mask and have children drive through to see him,” she said.

And St. Nicholas isn’t a jolly old elf in a red suit. “He looks like a bishop. He wears a bishops mitre (hat) and carries a crozier – a bishop’s staff,” Malphurs said.

According to the St. Nicholas Center at the Virginia Theological Seminary, St. Nicholas was born during the third century in the village of Patara in Asia Minor, which at the time was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey.

His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made bishop of Myra while he was a young man. He became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children and his concern for sailors and ships.

Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. After his release, he attended the Council of Nicaea in 325.

He died Dec. 6, 343, in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas and the anniversary of his death became a day of celebration.

According to the center, many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and deeds and these accounts help people understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of people in need.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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