When my dad remarried in my high school years, our family started a tradition I’d never heard of:  putting our shoes out on the evening of December 5th, in anticipation of St. Nicholas’s feast day on the 6th.  As far as I know, my little brother and sister — now 12 and 15 — still do this.  My girls will put out shoes too (Daddy’s shoes, because they’re bigger).

What I love about this feast of St. Nicholas is that it transcends some of the boundaries between my non-Catholic family and me.  They’re curious and they respect my devotion to Mary (I often wonder if they read my columns while rolling their eyes in frustration), but it’s not something they’re familiar with.  It isn’t part of their faith tradition.

But St. Nicholas…St. Nicholas, a Catholic bishop with a love for children, brings us together at this time of year.  Even if we don’t talk about what was in the shoes, we know it’s something we’re all doing.

As I’ve learned more about St. Nicholas over the year, he’s come to be a sort of Mother Teresa to me.  She was the sort of person who was Catholic to the core, who lived her faith so beautifully that it wasn’t an obstacle to others, and St. Nicholas seems to reach out and touch people too, regardless of their faith.

Sometimes, he’s a jolly elf in a red suit, and I used to find that disgusting.  A Catholic bishop reduced to a cartoon?

But you know what?  I don’t think St. Nicholas really minds.

Just as I don’t mind acting perfectly ridiculous in front of an audience to get a baby or a stubborn preschooler to smile.  Just as men in my life don’t mind wearing pink ribbons and sparkly hats when it elicits delightful giggles from my girls.
We don’t forget the meaning of Christmas when we pay tribute to St. Nicholas (though, as with many things, we can go overboard, and that’s its own conversation); maybe we come to understand it better through the lens of a loving man who saw poverty and injustice and felt moved to change them.

Reading the review copy I received of For the Love of St. Nick, by Garasamo Maccagnone, inspired these thoughts and so many more.  Though there were parts of the book that I wasn’t so keen on, the story is quaint and I think, for many, it could be a gateway to understanding better the relationship we can have with our friends in heaven, the saints.

It’s a tale of two boys, their father, and a Christmas miracle, possible because of St. Nick.  It’s probably too old for preschoolers, but I’ll bet children in early grades would enjoy having it read aloud and possibly even be able to read it to themselves.

Rather than tell you too much about it (I hate spoiling a story in a review!), I encourage you to check it out for yourself.  It would be a great gift for some young person in your life to find in their stocking or perhaps even the shoe that waits, so hopefully, outside their bedroom door on December 5th.