November 26, 2008

Caledonia couple has new twist on St. Nick's Day

St. Nicholas Day is coming– Are you ready?

When you wake up on Dec. 6, will there be a shoe full of candy waiting for you? If you answered yes, you're one of the few Americans who live in a home where St. Nick's Day is celebrated.

St. Nick's Day?

It's not celebrated much in the U.S. -- although there has been some awareness of the holiday in Wisconsin -- but in Northern Europe St. Nicholas Day is a big thing. Traditional celebrations included gifts left in children's shoes (from which American Christmas stockings developed).

Good children receive treats -- candies, cookies, apples and nuts -- while naughty children receive lumps of coal. In Germany, children still put a shoe outside their bedroom doors on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, and hope to find candy, coins and maybe a small gift in them on Dec. 6. In the Netherlands, children put their shoes in front of their chimneys in hopes of finding chocolate or a small toy in their shoe when they wake. (Illustration above is a Belgian postcard from the St. Nicholas Center Collection.)

But in the U.S. ... not so much. Patrick and Mindy Flynn of Caledonia are trying to change that. And they think they've improved on the idea of putting candy in kids' smelly shoes by creating special embroidered gift bags just for Saint Nicholas Day.

Patrick Flynn remembers his mother celebrating Saint Nicholas Day and asked her -- she's 80 now -- how the tradition started in her family. She said, "Gosh, I can't remember. It must have been after the 'little kids' started coming, because I didn't know about it earlier on." Flynn -- the sixth of nine siblings -- notes that his five older brothers and sisters are what his mother calls the "first generation;" the last four -- he's now 45 -- are the "little kids."

Nonetheless, his family isn't the only one to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day.

Mindy Flynn, a first-grade teacher at Fratt Elementary School, said, "I recall children in tears, after discovering many of their classmates had received a visit from St. Nick that morning, only to discover they had been left out. Some kids kept crying, 'Mrs. Flynn, why didn't he stop at our house?' "

That led to their eureka moment. "It was at that point my husband and I decided to create more awareness of the tradition by creating a shoe bag, embellished with an image of St. Nicholas and the date so parents would not forget.”

The bags are an offshoot of the couple's home-based "hobby business," Advantage Promotions, which focuses on embroidered corporate apparel items and school spirit wear.

Patrick says, "We came up with the idea last year during conversation over Christmas Eve Dinner. We registered the domain names and (Could not believe they were both available.) This is the first year we sold them. We actually started selling them a couple months ago and have sold more than we anticipated. One company in New York ordered over a hundred to give to their employees on St. Nicks Day. That was pretty cool!"

The shoe bags, which neatly hang on a doorknob or hook, are available for purchase at the couple's website. Order quickly and they'll arrive neatly embroidered with your child's name in time for this year's Saint Nicholas Day. To order, go to the website links above.

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