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Arrange a visit from St. Nicholas

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An illustration of St. Nicholas by artist John Lawrence. COURTESY IMAGE/THE ST NICHOLAS CENTER

Family’s holiday tradition sets spiritual tone for Advent

By Eileen Connelly, OSU (from our print edition)

“Never again, in all my life, have I experienced the unspeakable thrill of a physical nearness to heaven as I did on those evenings of my childhood when St. Nicholas came to us.”  — Father Francis Xavier Weiser, SJ

Those words have proven to be an inspiration for Jane Sansalone, who began a holiday tradition in the 1950s, when her own children were still very young, that continues to be relevant today—a visit from St. Nicholas.

Sansalone, a creative writer, developed a script rooted in the 14th-century miracle plays that began in northern France. The performance features a visit from the fourth-century bishop who gave food and money to the poor, and it helped Sansalone set a spiritual tone for her family during the Advent season.

Because the saint’s feast day comes on Dec. 6, near the start of Advent, “the visit gives a spiritual ambience to the holiday season which sets it apart from the commercialism unfortunately associated with this time,” she said. “St. Nicholas also helps us Roman Rite Catholics to know a little better and appreciate a little more deeply our Eastern Rite brothers and sisters as he was an Eastern Rite bishop.”

Sansalone recalled that a “flesh-and-blood” St. Nicholas would come to their home on the eve of his feast day in improvised Eastern Rite Bishop’s attire. He would question the children about their behavior during the past year and always found them deserving of candy canes, candy coins, cookies and a holy card. In later years, the bishop would arrive with an angel and devil who would help him decide if the children had, in fact, been good. Of course, they always were.

Over the years as Sansalone’s children grew older, the play expanded into a party and festivities that included neighbors, friends and parish priests. She has since compiled a binder complete with scripts, a tentative schedule for the saint’s visit, suggestions for the party, music, a cookie recipe, and information on Advent traditions.

Today, the tradition continues at St. Clement School in St. Bernard, where the saint is welcomed on his feast day. Sansalone believes the visit is as meaningful for current students as it was for her children years ago. “It broadens the kids’ vision and is a beautiful way for them to learn something about their faith.”

“This has always meant so much to her,” said Sansalone’s daughter-in-law, Angela, who has fond memories of the visits, including her task of purchasing cookies from a local bakery. “She would invite people from all walks of life to come and make them feel welcome. My daughter, Anna Catherine (now 13) has always loved the visits and found them special because of the bond she has with her Oma.”

Sansalone would love to share the materials with families, schools and parishes. For more information, contact her at 513-242-8538, or email econnelly@catholiccincinnati.org.

For more information about how to celebrate St. Nicholas’s Day (Dec. 19), visit stnicholascenter.org.

 

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