The Values of Saint Nicholas

Hartmann_Saint Nicholas_Featured Image

This Sunday, December 6th, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Nicholas, one of the most beloved saints around the world, and with good reason. In research for my children’s book, The Cure for the Christmas Crazies, I found these stories to be most notable:

  • His wealthy parents died when he was young, and he devoted his inheritance to helping the sick and the poor.
  • He became the bishop of Myra (now part of modern day Turkey) when he was still a young man.
  • During a period of persecution of the faithful, he was imprisoned.
  • There have been many stories told of Saint Nicholas coming to the rescue of children.
  • He is named the patron saint of more causes than any other saint, most well-known for that of children, sailors, the falsely-accused and repentant prisoners.

For centuries Saint Nicholas has been admired as the friend and protector of those in need. It truly breaks my heart to see the way retailers misrepresent his identity as Santa Claus, shown pushing a shopping cart through a Kmart commercial. But I also love all the wonder and excitement that Santa Claus brings to the season. I’ll even dare to say that it’s good for children to believe in him. Whenever I’m pondering what it means to have faith, my own childhood memories of Santa Claus actually help me to recall what it was like to innocently “accept like a child,” as stated in Mark 10:15.

Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.

Hartmann_Saint Nicholas_Manger

But still, Santa Claus remains “the red-and-white elephant in the room.” How can we celebrate the birth of our Lord without letting Santa Claus steal the show? Of course we need to keep Christ at the center of all our holiday activities, but in addition to that, I think another solution is to honor the original Saint Nicholas and all that he stood for. I wrote The Cure for the Christmas Crazies to do just that, plus help Santa Claus maintain his Christian roots.

When it comes to talking about the history of Saint Nicholas with children they automatically associate him with Santa Claus because of our culture. You don’t have to connect the dots between the historical and modern times — somehow their amazing imaginations do that easily. My book includes a brief history of the life of Saint Nicholas and how he is celebrated around the world, but doesn’t mention anything that would conflict with the legend of Santa Claus.

Hartmann_Saint Nicholas_Shoes

The story that follows portrays Santa Claus with the same faithful heart and generous spirit as Saint Nicholas. It also makes the point that Santa is forgiving. We all know that even “nice” children are “naughty” sometimes, but Santa brings gifts anyway. That’s a lesson in forgiveness that kids can easily understand. (and remember—patron saint of repentant prisoners)

Letting kids see that Santa is forgiving does not let them off the hook with their behavior, but rather helps them appreciate and practice that same value. Just as being saved by grace does not give us free reign to sin, but instead inspires us to let God’s goodness shine through us. I like this message much better than telling kids to be good so they can get lots of presents, which is basically teaching them to ask “what’s in it for me?”

As long as there is this association between Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus in our culture, I think it’s only fitting that we teach our children to make a clear connection between that persona and the celebration of the birth of Jesus. To neglect this would be a disservice to children and to the true role model who dedicated his life to serving our Lord.

In my book The Cure for the Christmas Crazies, Santa Claus encourages children to offer kindness to others as gifts to the baby Jesus. Santa has lots of other positive messages to help kids enjoy our modern traditions while keeping Christ at the heart of everything. My hope is to help children perceive Santa Claus as a Christian, whether they encounter him later in a secular book, on TV or in person. The book is available at my website www.ahcreations.com. Have a blessed Christmas!

Layout 1

 

My Journey as a Recovering List-oholic

 

I’m a big-time list maker. Anyone who knows me would agree. Before I invited Christ to be at the center of my life, I tried to find purpose and meaning through endless checklists of what I thought this world expected of me. This was especially true during the Christmas season. But that all changed when I realized that loving God was all that needed to top my list each day. This is part of what led me to write my new children’s book The Cure for the Christmas Crazies, which is all about joyfully giving thanks for the birth of Christ in the midst of our seasonal activities.

Layout 1

Here are a few magazine cover stories that used to grab my attention:

Set the Best Dining Table
Find the Perfect Presents for all the Family
Best Cookies Ever
130 Handmade Ideas

Really, 130? I’m stressed out just reading that!

Fortunately, I’m now drawn to articles with suggestions for keeping Christ in Christmas. There are lots of nice ideas like Jesse trees and charitable activities, but my list still gets overloaded. So this year I made myself a “Do-Not” list:

Do not try to cram every activity before December 25th

After all, Christmas is just beginning on that day. I like to consider the joy an expectant mother feels when her new baby finally arrives. Does she suddenly say “Okay, that’s over!” and pack away all the new clothes, toys, gifts and cards? No, actually we’re more likely to gather, just to be in the presence of new life. To extend the celebration you could host a feast day gathering, centered around the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph on December 27th, or The Baptism of the Lord on January 10th.

Do not try to do it all by yourself

Instead of tackling a full menu on my own, I’ll try a potluck dinner and get everyone involved. Save the cookie baking to share with kids while they are on break from school. Get teens involved in charity work. Let Dad address a few of those Christmas cards.

Do not think you have to write a lengthy personal message in every card

Just concentrate on a few each year. A smaller amount of thoughtful connections could make a bigger difference, especially with those distant friends that I have the least contact with throughout the year.

Do not complain 

Grumbling about the traffic, crowds or commercialized aspects of the season just spreads the negativity. Try to put a positive spin on it, especially with kids. “Wow, look how many people are out shopping today. They must be very excited about the birthday of Jesus coming up!” This same lighthearted tone is carried throughout my book, so I’ll make a point to live it each day.

Hartmann_Listoholic_Elf art

Do not try to match up the dollar amount spent on everyone on your list

It only promotes an attitude of entitlement and leads to frivolous spending. If I select a thoughtful gift that is just right for Susie, then she shouldn’t complain that it didn’t cost as much as the gift for Billy. It’s the thought that counts right?

Do not strive to create the “perfect” Christmas

No matter what visions of sugar plums are dancing in my head, the reality will include something unexpected. I’ll always remember the Christmas Eve that my husband picked up KFC for dinner because I had been sick in bed with the flu for the previous 24 hours. Not the Holy Night I had envisioned, but certainly more memorable! We all realized that we didn’t need a big fancy meal to celebrate the true beauty of the holiday. I don’t make Christmas happen with all of my planning and perfecting. It’s a gift to all of us, regardless of any efforts we make.

but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12: 9-10

If you find yourself itching for something to add to your to-do list, then I only suggest to make it truly spiritual and include others. This is the focus throughout my new children’s book, The Cure for the Christmas Crazies. It’s about embracing the way we celebrate, yet offering each task, each gathering, each light on the tree, as a gesture of thanks for the great gift of Christmas.

May you have a blessed Christmas!

 

Layout 1

“Dear Santa, I know you get lots of letters asking for toys, but I need your help!” Norbert the elf notices that everyone around him is going crazy with Christmas decorating, baking, and shopping. So he writes to the local expert, Santa Claus. How can Norbert help his family

remember the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of Jesus – but still enjoy these fun family traditions?  Santa’s advice to Norbert is patient, loving, and full of Christian teachings. Children learn about the three wise men, Martha and Mary, and the real reason for the generous spirit of Saint Nicholas.

Christmas Book Celebration

Come out to the Frank Sarris Public Library in Canonsburg, PA on Tuesday, December 1st from 6:00-7:30 p.m. for a special event celebrating the release of my new book “The Cure for the Christmas Crazies.” This is a free party, with games, treats and of course, a fun-filled reading of the story. Children will learn about Saint Nicholas and his love for celebrating the reason for the season — the birthday of Jesus!

The book tells the story of Norbert the elf, and how he notices that everyone at the North Pole is going crazy with Christmas decorating, baking, and shopping. So he writes to the local expert, Santa Claus. How can Norbert help his family remember the true meaning of Christmas, but still enjoy these fun family traditions?  Santa’s advice to Norbert is patient, loving, and full of Christian teachings. But things get even crazier as Christmas Day approaches. Will the true light of Christmas shine through all the craziness?

Kids will learn why we decorate with lights, how we give gifts just like the three wise men did, and the real reason that Santa Claus is so generous to others – to share God’s love! Join us for some family fun and start your season right, with “The Cure for the Christmas Crazies.”

You can order the book at my website www.ahcreations.com or pick up a copy the day of the party. Hope to see you there!

Halloween Candy Advent Chain

Advent Chain_featured image

Here’s a fun activity to make use of all that Halloween candy.

Materials needed:

6-7 sheets of green and red tissue paper
Clear tape
Markers
Small wrapped candies

As soon as we get home from Trick-or-Treating the kids start sorting out their favorites. It’s best to use “fun-size” or smaller candies. We keep this collection in a Ziploc, labeled by name and stashed away until we plan to complete the project. You will need 24 pieces if you start counting down on December 1st, or 26 pieces if you start on the first Sunday of Advent, November 29th.

1. Gather tissue paper and cut the sheets into four smaller sections.

Advent Chain_how to image A

2. Place one piece of candy along the side of one sheet and roll it up. Flatten the tube and bring ends together, forming your first link, and then tape the ends together. Smaller children may need help with the taping.

Advent Chain_how to image B

3. Roll your next piece of candy in an alternating color. Remind kids to put it through the last link before taping the ends together.

Advent Chain_how to image C

4. When the chain is finished, number each link with a marker. When the season begins, tear open one section per day. Enjoy!

Find more holiday crafts and free printables at my website, www.ahcreations.com, plus my new children’s book The Cure for the Christmas Crazies.

Leaderboard_byAprilHartmann1

Advent Chain_how to image D

Helpful Hint

To add a meaningful lesson, include a piece of paper with scripture (rolled around the candy so it doesn’t get torn with the tissue). You could tell the narrative of the Birth of Jesus, one line at a time. Or include anything related to a topic of your choice. For example, I did a search for sweet, taste and food at BibleGateway.com and found these results:

Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and invigorating to the bones.
– Proverbs 16:24

Does not the ear judge words as the mouth tastes food?
– Job 12:11

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the stalwart one who takes refuge in him.
– Psalm 34:9

The generous will be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.
– Proverbs 22:9

Thus all who dwell on the earth shall know, all who remain in the world shall understand, That nothing is better than the fear of the Lord, nothing sweeter than obeying the commandments of the Lord.
– Ben Sira 23:27

Thanks for visiting!

Why write a blog? When the idea was first presented to me I questioned it. My real passion is writing for kids. What do I have to offer adults? Then it occurred to me, the reason I write for kids is to provide enrichment to a future generation, the same thing that all parents are called to. As a mom and a catechist, I’m always looking for fun ways to help kids understand and appreciate how great this life is when it’s lived with faith.  I’m creating lesson plans all the time, and now I have a forum to share my ideas. Games, crafts, homemade gifts, and some points to ponder will be regular appearances here. I hope you find it helpful!