I’m reposting this one from the archives early enough so that anyone who’s interested should have time to procure these titles before the holiday. Enjoy!
December 6 is St. Nicholas Day, a holy day the existence of which I have only been aware for the past few years. (It’s amazing what homeschooling will do for a mother’s education!) As I’ve built our Christmas library, I have been eager to add books that increase our knowledge of the season, including traditions that are outside our realm of experience. I have had a couple of books about St. Nicholas on my Amazon wishlist since last year, and I finally bought one this year. Then I was contacted by Greenleaf Book Group about reviewing another title about St. Nicholas, so of course I took them up on the offer! The more books the merrier, right? (Just don’t ask Steady Eddie this question. . . )
Greenleaf sent me The Secret of St. Nicholas by Ellen Nibali. This story focuses on how Nicholas’ Christian faith inspired him to “do good deeds in secret” and save an impoverished nobleman’s daughters from being sold into slavery. According to the author’s note at the beginning of the book, this is one legend about St. Nicholas that historians believe to be rooted in truth. I like how this book brings the story full circle: in the beginning, Nicholas is a boy whose knowledge of the Christmas story was “not enough” for him; in the end, he is a venerable saint who has worked to do many “brave and marvelous deeds” with the help of God. Lon Eric Craven’s illustrations are soft and muted and add a very gentle air to this inspiring story. Many thanks to Greenleaf for the opportunity to add this title to our Christmas basket!
Our other title is Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer. This story opens with Nicholas the pastor of a village by “the turquoise sea.” The story recounted in this picture book is the same as the one in The Secret of St. Nicholas, with some differences. The most striking difference is that the father in the first story squanders most of the money given to him by Nicholas–the father in Saint Nicholas seems more humble (and responsible!). Chris Ellison‘s illustrations in this book are beautiful and richly colored.
Of the two books, I like Saint Nicholas the most. The illustrations are gorgeous–the one in which Nicholas is walking down a cobbled street in the darkness, wearing his trademark red robe and holding lantern aloft, is striking. I also like the tone of the story and how it highlights Nicholas’ prayerfulness. However, I think my girls probably enjoyed The Secret of St. Nicholas more, probably because in it, Nicholas is a youth who does good deeds. I’m still not sure that my girls really made the connection between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. Santa is not forbidden in our home, but he’s not a big deal, either. In both of these stories, Nicholas is dressed in red, and The Secret of St. Nicholas, the bag of coins Nicholas hefts through the window of the poor man actually lands in a stocking that is hanging up to dry. There is plenty of opportunity to connect the dots, if you’re so inclined. Both of the stories also place the focus back on Jesus by the end of the book, but Saint Nicholas has a decidedly more evangelistic tone. Either one of these stories would make a good addition to a Christmas collection.
For my girls, the highlight of our St. Nicholas Day was the trio of gold chocolate coins found in one of each girl’s Sunday shoes this morning.