1985. I saw my fifth birthday and snow in my backyard for the final time. My parents had shoveled enough from our little suburban-Milwaukee row house yard and finally said (as though we were in a predictable and weakly-written movie), “No more! We’re moving to Florida!” Cue the montage with the Kenny Loggins song. We arrived in the Sunshine State in August. Yep. August. In Florida.
Welcome to Florida! We have oranges! We have beaches! We have Disney World! We have 132% humidity for ten months of the year! Woo hoo. We’re home.
I’ve grown to love my home or perhaps I’m just too hot to care anymore. While I’m not quite willing to call myself a “Floridian” I definitely have more of Florida’s culture in me than Wisconsin’s. My parents, on the other hand, have held tightly to their Midwestern roots and passions, like wearing a Packer sweatshirt on a 89-degree day and eating raw beef, shrimp & herring on New Year’s. One tradition we celebrated when I young was St. Nicholas Day. I was shocked when I talked to my Florida friends about it and they had no idea that a surprise stocking could arrive on the morning of December 6th!
One day a couple of years ago I was talking about receiving gifts on the feast of St. Nicholas and finally got tired of the blank stares, so I did some research and found out that this is a very specific tradition to a few northern and Midwestern towns, including Milwaukee. Do you celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas?
It was pretty simple. On the morning of December 6th, my sister and I would wake to the sight of a stocking on the bathroom counter. Not sure why St. Nick couldn’t put it in a less private place, but whatev! They were bonus presents, so I wasn’t going to complain. There was nothing fancy in them. Just stuff like lip gloss, some candy, maybe a new pen or small toy. We knew St. Nicholas had visited while we were sleeping. This took the place of any stocking gifts on Christmas Day, but it was a great way to remind us of the wonderful Saint from whom Santa Claus is derived.
Now as my kids get to the age where Santa is becoming a pretty big deal, I am trying to think of ways to put some extra emphasis on St. Nicholas. It’s tough to compete with the marketing and advertising budget that the world has, so I love that this generous and thoughtful man has his own day. My boys are still too young for a big theological lesson, so for now, I throw in a race car or another small toy and an orange in the toe of the stocking. I just use it as a way to tell them this great Saint’s story. Here’s the story behind the orange!
If you have older kids, I have a great idea to share. First I’ll tell you, it’s not my idea. A listener to the station where I work called me up and said she used to do this with her kids and feel free to pass it on (Thanks Midge!). She calls them Grace & Mercy Cards. They are coupons you can use as stocking stuffers that can assist you in teaching the kids about, well, grace and mercy! Design them yourself as plain or as fancy as you’d like. The gist: Getting something you don’t deserve (grace) and not getting something you do (mercy). They are two separate coupons that your kids can “cash in” when they choose.
How might they choose to use their Grace & Mercy Coupons?
Scenario 1: Little John-Paul didn’t eat his dinner and doesn’t get dessert. But wait! He hands over his “Grace” coupon and gets that cupcake he didn’t earn.
Scenario 2: 12-year-old Mary Elizabeth lied about getting in trouble in school and you sentenced her to a weekend of restrictions. She uses her “Mercy” coupon and shaves 24 hours off her time and gets to go for ice cream with friends.
I wouldn’t say it’s theologically air-tight, but it’s a good starting point. As I think of ways the kids might use these coupons I realize it might be a greater lesson in grace and mercy for us moms. In some scenarios it would be hard to accept the coupon and follow through, so again, we’ll get a small glimpse into how our God is so awesome.
Stuff those stockings with a lesson on grace & mercy this St. Nicholas Day. I’d love to see what you design, so snap a pic and post it in the comments or share it on Twitter and tag it #Grace&MercyCoupon. Be sure to mention me so I can share it too. I’m @abbyspirit. In what scenarios do you imagine your kids would use these coupons? Do you think it will be hard to hold up your end of the bargain?
Copyright 2015 Abby Brundage