It is a good thing that we are supposed to spend the Advent Season joyfully preparing for the birth of Christ because it is so full of many wonderful feast days to celebrate! The feast of Saint Nicholas was always one of the most important for my family not only during my childhood but even up to the present day.
My parents had a way of bringing the liturgical year to life for me and my nine brothers and sisters. Now, every holiday is filled with memories of traditions that were designed to keep our focus on the spiritual meaning of the day. Saint Nicholas Day has always been a family favorite. The night before would be capped off with a live puppet show featuring Saint Nicholas and his sidekick Black Peter. We would hang our stockings and go to bed just a little worried about the possibility of getting a lump of coal and then wake up to that beautiful sight of red stockings bursting with treats. Among the loot would be some delicious, homemade gingerbread cookies. As we all got older and were no longer around to hang our stockings, the packages would come in the mail -- always with the gingerbread cookies and a note saying they were from "St. Nick's helper."
This tradition ended only upon the death of my mother who passed away quite unexpectedly nine years ago. It gave our family such great consolation that she was laid to rest on Saint Nicholas Day. As one of my brothers put it, "she was such a good helper on earth for St. Nick that he decided he needed her in heaven." Many of us continue to bake and enjoy the gingerbread cookies today as a way of keeping her memory alive.
A few years before she died, my mother and I were able to make a trip to Italy to meet our Italian side of the family for the first time. We made our way to the tiny town that my grandparents had left to come to America in the early 1900s. It was very special to visit their parish church that still had the original baptismal font probably used for both of them. And the name of that little church? St. Nicholas! It was as if my grandparents brought him along as a special patron for our family when they said goodbye to the "old country."
My grandparents would have been contemporaries of Pier Giorgio Frassati. Unfortunately, they both died long before I knew about him, so I was never able to ask them if they had ever heard of him while they were still in Italy. But they have heard of him now and I imagine they are all celebrating this feast day together. Happy Saint Nicholas Day! Verso l'alto!