At Ashleigh Byrne’s home, the holiday season kicks off with each family member’s shoes lined up by the back door in hopes that St. Nicholas will visit.

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The first time Ashleigh Byrne heard of St. Nicholas Day, she was in high school and arrived at her boyfriend Troster's house where she found the family's shoes lined up by the back door—which was not the norm. Troster explained his family's tradition of celebrating the December 6 feast day. Ashleigh was soon charmed by the story of St. Nicholas, the third-century Christian saint known for giving anonymous gifts to those in need and who became the inspiration for today's Santa Claus (in North America) and Father Christmas (in Europe).

shoes filled with gifts
Caroline and Charlie’s shoes at the back door the morning of December 6, after St. Nicholas’s visit.
| Credit: Courtesy of Ashleigh Byrne

Today, Ashleigh (on Instagram @ashleighbyrne and who blogs at ashleighbyrne.com) and Troster keep the tradition alive with their own children, Caroline, 6, and Charlie, almost 4. "St. Nicholas Day comes at the beginning of Advent and is such a good way to start off the whole Christmas season," Ashleigh says. "I love that it teaches our kids about giving to others and it is another way for us to spend time together as a family."

Following the Byrne family tradition, the young family of four places their shoes at the back door before bed on December 5, then reads a children's book about St. Nicholas and writes a thank you note to the visiting saint. Once the kids are tucked in, Troster leaves small trinkets, coins, candy, and notes in everyone's shoes.

On the morning of December 6, the kids bolt for the back door where their surprise-filled shoes await and Ashleigh prepares a special breakfast for the family. "The holidays can be so nutty and this gives us a reason to slow down," Ashleigh says. "We have a special breakfast—store-bought cinnamon rolls or something easy; I love to cook but I'm not making anything by hand on a Tuesday morning!—and start the day on a slow note."

little girl at table
Caroline at the festive breakfast table.
| Credit: Courtesy of Ashleigh Byrne

Ashleigh says that the past couple of years have taught her an important lesson: "Family is everything. And St. Nicholas Day is a simple tradition that teaches about generosity and gives us a way to be together as a family," she says. "Our whole thing is making our home, inside our walls, a happy place. And this is another small way to do that." Here are a few ideas Ashleigh shared for celebrating St. Nicholas Day with your family.

Put it on the Calendar

"I love adding St. Nicholas Day as an activity in our Advent calendar," Ashleigh says. She suggests going to the library to find a book or learning more about the life of St. Nicholas. "It's not something you have to spend money on."

Keep it Simple

"With Instagram and everything, it all seems so complicated and like you have to do so much! But this is so simple," she says. Have children (and adults) place one pair of shoes outside their bedroom door, on the hearth, or, like the Byrne's, by the back door. Place a little something in each shoe—candy, coins, tiny toys, notes from St. Nicholas. "Last year, Troster had a crazy day at work and that evening was like 'Oh my gosh, I forgot!' and he went down to the basement and raided a box of old stuff—marbles and little things," Ashleigh says. The kids went nuts! You can make it as simple or detailed as you want."

Leave a Note

Troster likes to leave notes from St. Nicholas for his children. "He writes a little praise like 'You are being so good,' or a joke—our kids love jokes," Ashleigh says. "Leave something simple and sweet that will make them smile."

holiday table setting
Special holiday table decor makes breakfast feel like an event.
| Credit: Courtesy of Ashleigh Byrne

Make Breakfast an Event

Troster's mom makes St. Nicholas Day breakfast extra special: She dresses the table with her collection of small Santas; bakes a chocolate-chip coffee cake and serves it with fancy nuts and hot tea, and lights candles for the meal. "I always have special Christmas holiday paper plates and napkins," Ashleigh says. But the event doesn't have to be something that adds stress to your morning routine. "My kids love cinnamon rolls," Ashleigh says. "So I will pick some up the night before or make something simple like pancakes." The idea is to enjoy a family meal together—even if it's bowls of cereal.

Take a Rain Check

"For Troster growing up, it was always a nice time with their family and the way they started the Christmas season," Ashleigh says. "His mom always made it really special, even when Troster and his sisters were older." When there were all in high school and having a leisurely breakfast together on a weekday was impossible, "they would do it over the weekend instead," Ashleigh says.

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