Story by Reagan Scott
LINCOLN (SNR) - When Father Michael Christensen was growing up, it was common for parishes to have Saint Nicholas visit around his feast day, which is celebrated Dec. 6.
When he became pastor at Saint Peter Parish in Lincoln in the 1990s, he instituted the practice at St. Peter School.
Every year after the all-school daily Mass on the feast of Saint Nicholas, a man with a cloak, miter and crosier walks into the church slowly while someone reads a brief biography of his life.
Sister Mary Michael, the principal at Saint Peter School said, “the children’s eyes are so glued to the figure of Saint Nick coming down the center aisle.”
As part of the day’s festivities, the students bring a shoe to leave outside their classrooms for a holy card and candy cane from Saint Nicholas. According to Father Christensen, this tradition originated with Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (now New York).
Saint Nicholas was born to Christian parents, but they died when he was a young man. The money that they left to him would be the source of many of his charitable works including providing poor women with dowries and providing for orphans.
Saint Nicholas was consecrated Bishop of Myra and attended the Church Council of Nicea in 325 AD, at which the assembled bishops produced the Nicene Creed, still said during Mass today.
“Santa Claus” comes from the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Saint Nicholas has been morphed into the Santa Claus figure popular in American culture today.
Father Michael Christensen is now pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Steinauer and Sacred Heart Parish in Burchard, but the tradition he started remains in place at St. Peter School in Lincoln.
The celebration isn’t the only way that Saint Peter School shares the lives of the saints with its students. Each year, two sixth-grade girls are selected to dress up as Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Lucy to celebrate their feast days, which fall on Dec. 12 and Dec. 13 respectively.
Like the celebration for Saint Nicholas, a brief biography of the saints’ lives will be read.
Father Christensen said Saint Lucy was born in 284 AD on the island of Sicily to parents who were secretly Christian. Her betrothed heard that she gave her dowry to a persecuted Christian family, and betrayed her to the Romans.
Lucy was blinded and killed for her faith. The Vikings, who later sailed the area were inspired by her story and took it back with them to Scandinavia, where the Christmas season begins with her feast day.
Father Christensen remembers celebrations of Saint Lucy from when he was younger as well, back before Vatican II.
“I heard about it all the time from a number of different parishes,” he said.
In 1531, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, a peasant farmer in Mexico. She asked the man to tell the bishop to build a church on the site of her apparition, but the bishop, who didn’t believe Diego, asked him to bring him a sign from Our Lady.
Two days later, Diego returned, with his tilma (a cloak woven from cactus fibers) full of flowers that Our Lady told him to pick, despite the fact that no flowers should have been growing in December. When Diego spread his cloak to show the bishop, the flowers spilled out, with an image of Our Lady imprinted on the fibers. The tilma of Juan Diego is still preserved to this day.
Sister Michael said that sharing the stories of the saints helps to foster devotion and love for the Church in students at the school.
“The saints show us what holiness looks like,” she said, “and we’re bringing that to the kids in a visual way.”
She said that the path to holiness starts with the way we pray, the way we live, and the way we believe.
“The sacraments have a lot to do with it,” Sister Michael said, “and daily Mass helps us to know our dignity. We don’t always understand it, but we work at it.”