I loved the interesting little gifts I got for St. Nick. The magnet set I referred to in this post might have been a repeat gift when I was young; it was a classic dimestore toy, with a horseshoe-shaped magnet and various tiny metal bars and lithographed tin circus shapes that the magnet picked up. When I was in second grade, I got a small bell, probably a Christmas ornament my mother found in a variety store. What made it stand out to me was the fact it was shaped like the hand bell the nuns rang to call us in from recess. It was blue metal and made a tinny tinkle when I shook it, the little handle gripped between my equally little thumb and forefinger.
The year I was eleven was the St. Nicholas of the stocking full of knickknacks. Those were the days when you could walk into Woolworth’s and see dozens of little china figurines for a dime or a quarter apiece. I had quite a selection: a horsehead, a ballerina with a stiff net skirt, a bird, maybe a dog. Unfortunately, I forget them all now, but I was quite pleased at the time. I don’t think many survived as I displayed them on a rickety wire set of shelves in my room. Every time I barely knocked into the shelves, knickknacks would go flying.
At twelve I got a small stamped sampler kit, which I’ve always credited with inspiring my interest in embroidery. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time, and I don’t think I actually finished it until a year or more later. I have no idea where it wound up, but I’m still making samplers.
At thirteen, I found powdered blush in the toe of my stocking, a sign of the changes coming. I don’t recall as readily what St. Nick brought the following years. Maybe paperback classics for my library. Maybe collector’s spoons for the collection I started when I was fifteen.
No matter what the year, there were always goodies, too: Mom’s first homemade Christmas cookies of the season, a candy bar or two, a candy cane, and a tangerine.
One year at school, maybe when I was in fifth grade, St. Nicholas left each child a gift: a small stocking cut out of red construction paper with a holy medal attached. There was one on each desktop when we arrived that morning in our classroom. It’s touching to think of Sister cutting out all those paper stockings and fastening a medal to each one.
Mom and I still exchange gifts for St. Nicholas, although it’s rarely a morning thing now. We celebrate with Diamondqueen and TPM and the Hooligan kids, which means we often exchange our little presents in the evening, or at lunchtime on a weekend. (The Hooligans do get their presents from St. Nick himself in the morning.) We still get delicious samplings of the first Christmas cookies from Mom and other sweets. Diamondqueen’s own tradition is to give us calendars for the new year printed with specially chosen photos of the Hooligans for each month.
It’s a happy time, and the kids are every bit as excited as I always was. I can’t help but get nostalgic, though, about the St. Nicholas mornings of my childhood, a little sampling of Christmas to whet our appetites, when I treasured the simple gifts at least as much as the bigger presents Santa brought.