The children always look forward to St Nicholas' Day so very much. It is helpful little landmark on the journey through Advent towards Christmas. They love the traditions so much - and became quite sad that we didn't have time for a big ceremonial polishing of the shoes yesterday. Finding treats in the shoes so carefully left on the hearth the night before, then eating chocolate for breakfast is a wonderful memory to return to year after year. And I love nursing a cup of coffee and listening to them marvelling at how St Nicholas picked up the book about himself they left out as a "trap" and sat in the rocking chair to read it and drink his cream soda and eat his popcorn while leaving dirty footprints and the carrot for his horse half-eaten.
It's such a curious little dance of believing it is all true because they want to believe it and have that magic, while part of them knows it must be mama behind it all. Especially as this year they saw me put the chocolate onto the conveyor belt at the supermarket with their own two eyes, and yet they were astonished that St Nicholas knew they were studying French and left them French story books...
Every year recently, our church hosts a St Nicholas Fair, and this year it was awaited even more eagerly than usual as it was being held at night and St Nicholas was coming with his horse. The children were in such a dither that we didn't do lessons today but instead they played and then we spent a happy hour hacking up felt and quilt batting to make a mitre for Kitten to wear and beards for them both. We laughed rather hysterically and made lots of mistakes during this process.
They wore their costumes proudly to walk up to the cathedral and when we eventually made it in to the fair, they had a lovely time meeting up with Mouse's godmother and her boys, having lucky dips, eating waffles, and then, best of all, going out into the dark garden to see the saint in his mitre and robes and his beautiful white horse. St Nicholas was very kind and gave the children golden coins and an orange ( Kitten tried to feed her orange to the horse apparently, which all went a bit wrong), and then we walked home full of the wonder of it all, discussing whether it could possibly be the real real St Nicholas they'd seen as he was so different from department store santas they have seen before and was like a "normal bishop really" and his horse was certainly real with his velvet nose and dislike of oranges.
For me the best part of the fair was arriving too early and going through to the Cathedral and finding that there was Exposition in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Going and sitting in the peace of the chapel, gazing at my Lord on the altar lit by flickering candles, and just being stilled and reminded of the realness of Jesus, of His love and His mercy, of the piercing beauty of His Sacred Heart was my perfect St Nicholas day gift. The children were like little angels for ten minutes, and it was a time of utter peace and loveliness, of closeness to God and it was exactly what I needed in the middle of crushing anxiety and depression and worry.
That was the reality I needed: to come and see that Jesus was there for me, to be reminded of His compassion, and how at the same moment that my heart was pouring out its libation of love and need, all around me other hearts were doing the same and He was there for them too. The spiritual reality that God is with us always, I know; but sometimes I need a physical reality of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, seeing candles, hearing beautiful words sung and prayers prayed.
So I feel refreshed and ready for the rest of the Advent journey the Lord has in mind for us this year. It won't be perfect or "bloggable" or stylish or, knowing me, even that holy; it will be what it should be, for our good, and we will grow closer to God, because He will come closer to us.