Celebrating St. Nick

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In 1943, when I was 11 years old, we moved to a neighborhood on the banks of the Ohio River called the East End.  Our area which included the gas works, the water works, St. Rose Church and School, First Federated Church and Highlands Elementary School, was made up of various ethnic backgrounds – German, Hungarian, Irish, African-American, and “Americans” who were a mix of a lot of nationalities.  Many of the grandparents were immigrants, many of the parents were first-generation Americans.  Everyone generally got along very well, although some families fought amongst themselves or were disdainful of other nationalities.  An immigrant German grandmother who lived next door to us spoke disparagingly of the Hungarians in the neighborhood, one of whom was her daughter-in-law.  Many of the Irish families had their own battles between the Collins, Breen, McCarthy, Hathorn and other assorted families.  My sister and I were accustomed to being with children of diverse backgrounds when we attended Raschig School in downtown Cincinnati.  My sister had her picture taken in Kindergarten with children who were Greek, Chinese, Hungarian, and African-American.  She stood at the front of the line and under her picture was a caption, Shirley Applegate, American.  Of course, they were all Americans, but they were proud of their heritage, too.  The picture appeared in the evening newspaper and that clipping was framed and hung in our home until after World War II.  A copy of the picture with all of the children is on display in the World War II exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center in the old Union Terminal.

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The despised Hungarian daughter-in-law lived three doors up the street from us and she was a lovely woman with a houseful of kids.   This is a picture of my sister and me behind one of the German/Hungarian daughters in our front yard.

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Despite our exposure to lots of nationalities, we had never heard of anyone celebrating St. Nick (Nicholas) on December 6.  The first year we were in the neighborhood, we were surprised to receive a gift from our Hungarian neighbor.  It was a small square tin with calla lilies on the lid and inside was a hand crocheted, old-world-looking ear warmer.

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I was so impressed and the lady told us how they always celebrated St. Nick with small gifts, candy and nuts for the children.  I vowed then that if I ever had children, I would have them hang up their stockings and St. Nick would come during the night and fill them to the brim.

Since my first daughter’s birth in 1954, we’ve gone through the routine each year and I still give St. Nick gifts to all four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  My two daughters also loved the tradition and there is a very generous exchange between us of gifts and sweets for St. Nick.

We’ve used various stockings through the years, usually handmade, and these are the stockings that are hanging on my mantel right now, awaiting a visit from St. Nick.  My oldest daughter  requested a country-style quilted stocking when I first began quilting 5 years ago.

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When my youngest daughter was a teenager, she made this crocheted stocking for me.

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She also embroidered this stocking for me a few years ago.  It’s a Mary Engelbreit pattern which sums up my feelings for this season perfectly:

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I love Christmas! (and St. Nick)

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Lillian Applegate Westfelt was a mother of 4, grandmother of 6, and great-grandmother of 3. She was an 86-year-old widow living in a nice little bungalow with her oldest daughter and a beagle-dachsund named Addie. She passed away in November, 2018.

11 thoughts on “Celebrating St. Nick”

  1. Great pictures! Wow! Your background sounds like ours… My grandparents came over from Hungary… My Dads side were original citizens of Germantown (near Jamestown) and blended with English, Swedish, and ??

  2. My daughter and husband hang up stockings on Christmas Eve.It seems this custom is mostly reserved for children in the UK and Australia. Most people here would think monty & Myf too old to hang stockings ( but we don’t care)
    Your family stockings are beautiful – real heirlooms.
    I have to admit to never having heard of St Nick’s day.

  3. I LOVED reading you beautiful story! I myself (Hungarian)grew up celebrating St. Nicks Day :)I was so sad to found out that not everyone celebrated, each year I attempt to spread the word — if and when I have children this will be my tradition as well 🙂 thank you for sharing!

  4. On the outside chance we are related… My great Aunt Nora (Eleanora) Hansen married John Hawthorne. Dad had a few memories of them visiting from California, then lost track of them. They had two daughters Lillian Eleanor and Grace. In the 2040 census (California), Lillian’s last name was Gotham and she had a 10 year old daughter Shirley. On the outside chance we are related I thought I would contact you.

  5. I’m so glad you reblogged this post, Lillian…I missed it the first time around.
    Such sweet memories! Your neighborhood sounds much like the one I grew up in, too. Lots of variety…thus, I have tons of DIFFERENT recipes to work from. LOL

  6. — I’m not so big on the holiday season myself. As a working mom I came to dread the extra work and mess. — Yet I love the way you’ve celebrated the season with handmade gestures of the heart based on shared traditions that create such beautiful memories. What a great reminder of the role diversity has played in this country. Tolerance is not always our natural inclination, is it? But new ideas enrich our lives in ways that last forever.

  7. What a wonderful place and time to grow up. Today we talk about celebrating diversity more than we actually do it, I think. I love the stories you tell about growing up, and this one is no exception. Thanks for reminding us by sharing this archive.

  8. What a wonderful diverse childhood you had, and how great to share the many cultures and traditions with your family when they were young. Learning about each other is such a good way to avoid those “dislikes” because they are “different” ideas!

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