There are so many wonderful ways to celebrate the arrival of St. Nicholas!
Shoes or stockings? Horse or sleigh?
Does St. Nicholas visit on December 6 or on Christmas Eve?
The beliefs and traditions are as diverse as the people who celebrate them.
The Birth of a Children’s Book Career
Author and long-time Multicultural Children’s Book Day supporter and Sponsor Charlotte Riggle spent twenty years pulling together the delightful book, Catherine’s Pascha. The diverse picture book for ages 4-8 was released in 2015 to rave reviews.
“I had written it when my children were small,” Riggle shared. “But I didn’t find a publisher until they were all grown up. And I had so much fun working with my publisher and editor, Becky Hughes. She took the manuscript I’d created and brought it to life. There were times when she’d send me a draft of an illustration, and it made me cry. It was such an amazing process.”
When the book was finally released in February of 2015, the response from those who read it blew both Riggle and Hughes away. Children loved it and even adults told the duo that the book had made them cry. “And you don’t cry over just any picture book. I knew that we had created something special. And I wanted to do it again.”
Inspired by her first book, Riggle shared that she knew that Book Two would be something even more special. Why? Because it would include St. Nicholas; the most universally loved saint in the Christian world.
“I knew that, in the next story, The St. Nicholas Day Snow, I wanted to spend more time with Elizabeth,” Riggle recalled. “She’s Catherine’s best friend, but you really don’t get to know her in Catherine’s Pascha. I kept toying with story ideas that would bring her out more. I drafted one about her celebrating her name day – her patron saint is Elizabeth the Dragon Slayer. But Becky, being my publisher as well as my illustrator, was more practical. She thought I ought to look for a story with a more universal appeal.”
In St. Nicholas Day Snow, a huge snowstorm hits Elizabeth’s small community on Saint Nicholas Day. But, of course, it’s about more than that. The story starts on the morning of the Eve of St. Nicholas. Elizabeth’s grandmother is sick, and her parents have to leave town to make sure she’s okay. So Elizabeth is spending the day and the night with Catherine.
Elizabeth’s parents have totally forgotten that it’s St. Nicholas Eve. In their family, St. Nicholas visits on St. Nicholas Eve and leaves gifts in the children’s shoes. In Catherine’s family, St. Nicholas visits on Christmas Eve. So, on top of being worried about her grandmother, Elizabeth is now worried that St. Nicholas won’t visit her. She argues with Peter, Catherine’s little brother, about when and how St. Nicholas visits.
Peter’s godfather comes by when the argument is at its peak, and he resolves it with a story that explains why the traditions are different. Then he lets Catherine’s parents know that it has started to snow.
The girls make cookies and play in the snow. Catherine’s mom addresses Elizabeth’s worries with compassion and prayer. And the snow keeps falling.
“That’s the main story. I put just enough about Elizabeth’s grandmother in the story to have a reason for the sleepover,” Riggle shared. “Becky created a second story, a wordless story about Elizabeth’s parents and her grandmother, that runs alongside the main story, and meshes with it beautifully.”
Two Important Threads Running Through The St. Nicholas Day Snow
When asked what Charlotte and Becky would like parents, teachers, and librarians know about The Saint Nicholas Day Snow, Riggle said, “When we talk about multicultural books, we often talk about mirrors and windows. For children in the culture depicted in the book, it’s a mirror. For others, it’s a window. The Saint Nicholas Day Snow is a mirror book for children with disabilities, who rarely see themselves in books. And it’s an absolutely lovely window for people who aren’t familiar with the many ways that St. Nicholas is honored and celebrated.”
“We don’t try to explain everything about St. Nicholas, or even try to settle the debate about the details as an authoritative book about him,” Hughes added. “This book is mostly about some of the ways St. Nicholas Day would be celebrated in an Orthodox Christian household. We touch on the oldest story about him, but even then, we had our narrator state that story as “the way my father told me.” Trying to get completely accurate information (the way our 21st-century science-loving culture most frequently defines accurately) is almost impossible 1800 years removed. Historians know this: we’re thrilled when we can find more than one source for some people’s lives. We’re thrilled when we can find sources about a particular personality in another contemporary culture! THAT’s Christmas for a historian!”
About The Author
Charlotte Riggle is a writer, a reader, and a passionate advocate of picture books. Her first book, Catherine’s Pascha, is as beautiful as Pascha itself, with words that sparkle and illustrations that glow with the joy of the feast.
Her first book took 20 years from start to finish (you can read the story here) but her most recent book, The Saint Nicholas Day Snow, took less than two. It follows Catherine and her best friend Elizabeth during a surprise snowstorm on St. Nicholas Eve.
Catherine’s Pascha was a finalist in the 2015 Best Book Awards.
Charlotte lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest, in a house full of books and music and a fluffy brown dog. She shares faith, hope, and picture books on her website, on Facebook and Pinterest, and on Instagram.
And she shares homemade cookies whenever she can. Sign up for her newsletter and get a dozen of her favorite cookie recipes!
About The Illustrator
Illustrator, Editor and Publisher Becky Hughes, has a degree in art from Taylor University in Upland, Indiana and came to be a book illustrator a roundabout way.
Initially, she started as a jeweler’s apprentice, then worked as a museum archivist for the USS Silversides Museum in Muskegon Michigan. Part of that job was creating graphics, images, and text for exhibits. It was while she worked at the USS Silversides Museum that she met Mr. Al Jacobson, the last surviving member of the USS Flier’s final patrol. Jacobson was desperate his story not die with him so his lost crewmates would have a memorial. Hughes and Jacobson worked together to produce the story, Surviving the Flier, and Hughes supplied the graphics work for that book, as well as the USS Flier Project blog.
Those graphics caught the eye of her freelance editor, who was instrumental in connecting her to author Charlotte Riggle. Since that day, illustrating children’s books has become her passion.