St. Nicholas and the Holy Family

St. Nicholas visits with children at St. Margaret Mary Parish, Lower Burrell, in 2019.

St. Nicholas and the Holy Family

Patron saint of children teaches generosity to the poor at Christmas


St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children. This time of year is the perfect opportunity for children to learn about the German tradition celebrated on his feast day, Dec. 6 , because it focuses more on giving than receiving.

St. Nicholas was born to wealthy parents, but he dedicated his entire life to helping the poor. Legend has it that he and his companions would visit homes on the eve of Dec. 5 to ask parents if their children were behaving. They would even carry a book to double-check.

Then children placed their shoes or slippers out for St. Nicholas to fill with small gifts of fruit, candy, coins and treats.

If the story sounds a lot like Santa Claus with a list that he checks twice and presents for children, you are on to something! Over time, St. Nicholas has become a secular tale. But that has not stopped the Dec. 6 tradition from spreading to families all over the world, including those at St. Margaret Mary Parish, Lower Burrell.

Most years in December, the parish’s intergenerational faith formation group celebrates Mass followed by a potluck dinner to symbolize the family as a whole.

“It celebrates our community, it celebrates family, which is what the Holy Family represents,” said Donna Misak, director of faith formation and coordinator of youth ministry at St. Margaret Mary Parish. 

After dinner, the children gather around the steps of the sanctuary where Father Kenneth G. Zaccagnini, pastor, reads a story. Then they receive a special visit from St. Nicholas, who tells them about where he came from and all the wonderful things he has done to help others. He shares with them that in obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” he used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick and the suffering. He was so generous that he is also known as the wonder worker or gift giver.

“We brought St. Nick into the picture because we were making gifts and giving to charities, such as the homeless, Catholic Charities, a women’s shelter, service members and many others,” Misak said.

After receiving candy canes and prayer cards and taking a few pictures with St. Nicholas, the families gather in the narthex, where tables are full of activities for all.

“We celebrate the Holy Family, and that’s the reason for all the festivities,” said Misak. “The kids make the ornaments for the tree in the narthex. We also do gifts and cards for our homebound and whatever charity work we were doing. 

“All families work together; maybe the grandparents would help with the ornaments while the parents pack up our charity items,” said Misak.

In honor of St. Nicholas, Dec. 6 is celebrated as the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe and across the globe. 

It reminds us that as Christians, we should follow in the footsteps of St. Nicholas and share our good fortune with those less fortunate.

“It’s what we are supposed to do,” said Misak. “We always talk about sharing with those less fortunate. It can be something as easy as a ‘hello.’ Or something as important as a meal or clothing.”

At St. Margaret Mary Parish, talk of giving and sharing starts early, “simply because the earlier you start, it becomes more of a habit. Things you grow up doing you carry on later in life and hopefully pass on to the next generation,” said Misak.

Celebrating Holy Family Night at St. Margaret Mary Parish in 2019 are, from left: Rebecca Andrew and her niece Octavia Andree and Karen Krall and her daughters Valentine and Campbell (front).

The celebration of St. Nicholas will be virtual this year on the Diocese of Greensburg’s Facebook page and the Diocese website at But that gives all of us the opportunity to bring the story of St. Nicholas into our homes and share his many examples of giving.

Fröhliche Weihnachten!


Der Heilige Nikolaus lived in the 4th century. As a young man he served as the Bishop of Myra in what is now called Turkey.

St. Nicholas gained his wealthy parents’ inheritance and dedicated his life to serving God, caring for the poor. He was known for his kindness, especially to children.

There are many legends about St. Nicholas, all focusing on his dedication to helping others. In Germany, St. Nicholas had a reputation for leaving gifts, such as coins, chocolate, cookies or fruit, in people’s shoes overnight. Children left their polished boots, shoes or stockings out on Dec. 5 and found the gifts the next morning.

Over time, beliefs and traditions about St. Nicholas were combined with German mythology.

St. Nicholas died Dec. 6, 343 AD, in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a relic called manna formed in his grave. This miracle qualified him for sainthood.


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