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St. Nick to bring feast day celebration to Ford City

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger
Nikki Mantini of Ford City shows a letter that Saint Nicholas wrote to her children when they where children. On Thursday,Saint Nicholas will visit the Ford City Park gazebo from 3 to 5 p.m. and Divine Redeemer School from 5 to 7 p.m. to give out traditional small treats. Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times

FORD CITY — St. Nick is coming to town on Thursday.

But he won't be dressed in his usual red suit trimmed with fur. Instead, he'll be wearing his traditional bishop's robe and tall miter to celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas.

Children of all ages are invited to visit him at the gazebo in Ford City Park from 3 to 5 p.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m. at Divine Redeemer School. Both are along Fourth Avenue.

Nikki Mantini of Ford City said the tradition of celebrating St. Nick's Day was passed down through the Polish side of her family, through her mother, Genevieve. In fact, Nikki remembers that as children, she and her sister and brothers would receive letters from St. Nick. Curiously, the handwriting looked a lot like the Genevieve's.

And even after Nikki and her siblings grew up, the letters kept coming — this time arriving for their children.

Nikki saved the letters. One letter written to her two children begins with the line: “I am so proud of you —”

But it also cautioned the kids to behave or they might end up with coal in their stockings.

The tradition of celebrating St. Nick's Day is part of the heritage of many immigrant families who traveled to the area from Europe.

For some, the day was marked by children hanging stockings up or leaving their shoes out on the night before Dec. 6, in the hopes of finding a treat waiting for them the next morning.

Gen Klimkowicz Ray, grew up in Ford City and said she remembers hanging up a stocking for St. Nick to fill on the night before his feast day.

“A few times my brothers got coal,” she said, adding that on occasion the treats would be hidden somewhere else instead of inside the stockings.

She also remembers that for her family, the day was marked by walnuts being thrown in the door — which had a way of startling the kids.

Ray, who helped decorate the gazebo this year for St. Nick's visit said she appreciates how the Mantini family have worked to keep the old tradition alive.

“There are many traditions,” said Nikki. “Everybody has their own version of St. Nick.”

She said her mother started the custom of having St. Nick visit Ford City 25 years ago. Nikki's brothers built the gazebo in 1987, and now children who lined up to get a picture taken and receive a treat will be bringing their own kids.

At Divine Redeemer, students have been busy making paper shoes to leave out Wednesday night for St. Nick to fill. On his feast day they plan to welcome St. Nick with food, games, cookies, basket raffles and a book fair.

But the day is not just for children, said Nikki.

“Young and old can come out,” she said. “It's not just for kids. We encourage older people to come out too.”

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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