December 3, 2023
“If you’re on the fence about whether you want to do St. Nick with the children because of all the commercialization of Santa Claus, this is a totally different experience here at the Shrine. … This is very unique, very Catholic, very historically accurate and beautiful.” This comment from Director of Pilgrim Services Steven Doll aptly sums up the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s annual St. Nicholas event, featuring the beloved saint from whom the Santa Claus myth grew.
The Story of St. Nicholas
Indeed, the Shrine goes to some lengths to offer the children an authentic experience; as Doll elaborates, “Our St. Nicholas is … wearing a miter and he has a crozier and the red vestments, so it’s very authentically, liturgically correct to the actual St. Nicholas, who was a bishop.” This St. Nicholas also recounts for his young audience his exciting life story and how he became “Santa Claus,” as well as the story of the first Christmas.
Of course, the genuine, inspiring content goes hand in hand with an atmosphere of joy and merriment. “I would say the age range of kids that are there [extends] from newborns all the way to upper teens, and everybody enjoys it,” Doll observes. “Last year I think there was a record turnout … with probably 100 kids. It was just beautiful, to see such a good turnout.” Many families, he adds, enjoy it enough to make it an annual tradition: “It’s really great seeing a lot of the same families turn out for this every year.”
For the Children
While refreshments, coloring books, and photo opportunities all contribute to the good time, one especially important factor is the joyous presence of Deacon Sam Schmirler, who plays the part of St. Nicholas. “It’s been fun; I’ve been doing it for about five years now, and every year gets a little bit better,” says Dcn. Schmirler. He also describes what he has especially enjoyed about sharing this event with families: “attending Mass together and then coming down, enjoying a celebration but then also helping them make their connection between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus … yeah, there is a Santa Claus, but it’s St. Nicholas; this is how he became Santa Claus.” In this way, a respectful balance is maintained, so that children who believe in Santa can enjoy hearing where he came from, while those who have learned differently can rest assured that St. Nicholas’s story is indeed true.
As Dcn. Schmirler indicates, the event follows 1:00 Mass on the Sunday nearest St. Nicholas’s feast day, falling this year on December 3, the first Sunday of Advent. It takes place in the Shrine Crypt, where cookies, hot chocolate, and more will be provided. While freewill offerings are welcome, there is no cost to attend. As we begin Advent, all families are warmly invited to come meet the saint whose charity has become a legend perennially linked with the greatest gift, the Incarnation.