Saturday, 8 December 2012

Advent Club with St Nicholas

Today we have been enjoying the story of St. Nicholas. We're a day or two late, according to my Dutch friend, but I thought Nicholas should definitely get a place in our Advent Club, and as my children get older, I am gently shifting their attention to towards him - not that I have anything against Santa -but Nicholas provides a different emphasis for them. There is a Godly Play story about St. Nicholas that I have seen, but I don't have that book. Instead I used this story which is from Barnabus in Churches, who provide some wonderful resources suitable for use at home or church, many of them freely available online. Quite a few are inspired by the Godly Play style of story telling.

Here are the materials I used. The story suggested using a red felt underlay, but to tie up with Advent, I decided to go for purple, which I believe is the colour used for the official Godly Play version. The objects I used to tell the story were a wooden cross, some coins (next time I would maybe use some foreign or old coins to deflect away the excitment at seeing cold hard cash!), a model of a boat - not having one handy I made a simple paper boat, which seemed to satisfy the children greatly.

 To explain Nicholas' work as a bishop, Barnabus suggested a woolen stole, but that would not have meant anything to our group. Bishops don't feature in their understanding of church, but I was able to say that this is a type of church leader, and that leaders are there to look after people like a shepherd. So I thought I would use the figure of the Good Shepherd - the perfect role model for any leader. 

Part of the story talks about Nicholas' work defending and explaining the Christian faith, helping people to understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Nicholas may have been part of the group that wrote the Nicene Creed. Again, this is something unfamiliar to the children, but I read a little of it out, and interestingly, one boy decided this was the most important part of the story - a budding theologian, I wonder?

For me, one of the things I especially love about this style of story telling is the chance to make the objects used. Here are the three money sacks that Nicholas secretly threw in to through a window to proved dowries for three poor girls. Made from felt, with leather thong to tie them (I sewed the thong into one side seam, so they wouldn't get lost), and filled with a few copper coins, they make satisfyingly tactile objects. The children were very keen to touch them!

Finally there is a 'present' which I kept fairly plain, in order that it wouldn't detract too much from the other objects, and St Nicholas himself. The story called for an icon, but I already had made this figure a year ago, from wool felt, pipe cleaners and roving. Seeing his red bishops clothing and pointed hat was a bit of a lightbulb moment for some of the group...

The wondering was interesting, and the questions Barnabus offer are good. One is ' I wonder what Nicholas found hardest about being a  bishop' - one child replied, with great perception, 'leading the church' - something I'm sure most bishops and other leaders would agree with!

Following the story we continued around the kitchen table with a variety of crafts, making decorations to hang on the wonderful sparkly trees we made last week. This Friday I will take them to decorate the tables for the Christmas dinner of our local Seniors club.

Something new for us all was making apple cinnamon dough. This was a bit messy but brilliant fun. These decorations can't be eaten but once dried, should last for several years. There is an excellent tutorial here.
We also strung some dried orange slices on ribbon, and by popular demand, glittered some more pine cones. 

As the children left, they found their shoes had been filled with a satsuma, some chocolate coins and also a little Nicholas card.

Sometimes a little word is all that's needed. The boys have their own advent calendars, but inspired by this I made some paper pockets which I paper-clipped to a string. For each day there is a very short Bible reading for Advent, just a verse or two. I compiled the readings for use at L'Arche, with simple themes such as hope, peace, joy and love. We have been pulling the readings out at breakfast and reading them then, then again at the start of dinner. In these busy days, with my mind in a hundred places, they have been the perfect nourishment, sustaining me and coming back to me often. I try some other Advent books and they are good too, but sometimes a little word is all that's needed.

Hope you're enjoying Advent too!


  1. Hillary, I want to come to your Advent Club - that looks like so much fun! I had not thought of doing a lesson on St. Nicholas. The crafts are great and how sweet to fill the children's shoes at the end. They will be looking forward to next week for sure!

  2. What a helpful post! I'll want to come back to this next year. (And Nicholas is the patron saint of the Helsinki Anglicans!)

  3. Hi Hillary, I just featured this as a highlight:

    Thanks so much for joining in!