While writing this short story, I came across an article about St. Nicholas. As many people know, St. Nicholas was a bishop in the 4th century who is remembered as the source of many of the traditions that Americans observe every Christmas—hanging stockings, giving gifts, and more. Furthermore, our modern gift-giver, Santa Claus, derives himself from St. Nicholas. Though the names don’t appear to have much in common, the encyclopedia informs me that the German name for St. Nicholas was “Sinter Klaas,” which, when spoken quickly by excited children with poor elocution, sounds like “Santa Claus.”
But, if the legends are true (and legends are about all we have on the matter), St. Nicholas was more than just a jolly old gift-giver. For one, he purportedly attended the Council of Nicea (pronounced nigh-see-ah) in 325 A.D., a council where leaders in the church refuted the heresy being taught by a priest named Arius. Arius denied the full deity of Christ, claiming that Jesus was just a man. For Christians, this was (and is) a problem, because if Jesus is not fully God and fully man then there can be no salvation. To counter this heresy, the Nicean Council wrote what is now known as the Nicene Creed, which is a summary of the central truths of Christianity as found in the Bible. While this creed is not inspired and while nothing may be added or taken away from Scripture (Revelation 22: 18-19), it is nevertheless a handy way to remember the central tenets of Christianity without having to memorize multiple Bible verses for every one (not that that’s a bad idea).
That’s all very well, but what has this got to do with St. Nicholas? Well, according to legend, St. Nicholas reportedly became so indignant over Arius’s heresy at the council that he went over and slapped him! He was almost stripped of his position in the church for doing this, but he was forgiven after apologizing. This story, though we don’t know that it’s true, no doubt reflects the true beliefs of St. Nicholas—that the Gospel is not to be trifled with. Christians must take the truth of the Gospel very seriously. With his apparent passion for the Truth, I wonder what St. Nicholas would think of the Christmas season as it is today…
The Dream of St. Nicholas
What follows is a fictional snapshot commentary of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Yuletide season
St. Nicholas organized his voluminous red-brown robes, straightened his bishop’s cap, and sat down in a large, throne-like chair. He was dreaming—he could tell by the way the chair kept jumping up and down and making grunting noises. When he sat down, the chair stopped moving and became silent. St. Nicholas was sitting in a small amphitheater, and a play was about to begin…
In a bedroom of a cozy carpeted house with green and red decorations everywhere, a mother was talking sternly with her nine-year-old son, “Zeke, Brandon’s mother tells me that you told him there isn’t a Santa Claus.”
Zeke shrugged his shoulders. “Well, there isn’t, is there?”
Zeke’s mother frowned, “That’s not the point; if Brandon wants to believe in Santa Claus, you shouldn’t spoil the magic by telling him otherwise He’ll find out eventually, but for now I want you to remember that he’s your younger cousin; it’s your job to support him.”
Zeke nodded, “All right.”
Just then, Zeke’s grandmother yelled from another room, “Dinner time!” Zeke and his mother joined the rest of the family around the dinner table.
“Come and sit down, Brandon,” said one of the parents. “It’s time to eat.”
Brandon, a serious-looking six-year-old said, “May I sit next to Zeke?”
“Hmmm… Only if you say please,” said Brandon’s mother, smiling. She knew how much Brandon liked his cousin’s company.
“Pleeeeaaaase?!!” said Brandon. His mother nodded. The family sat down at the table, and the grandfather prayed a short prayer. After this, everyone filled their plates with all sorts of food—roast beef, green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls, and cranberry sauce (Brandon passed on the cranberry sauce). Halfway into the meal, Brandon’s grandfather—Grandpa Jim—looked up from buttering a roll and stared intently at Brandon through his bifocals, “So, Brandon, what did you ask Santa for this year?”
Brandon looked down at his green beans, picking at them, “Santa’s not real, Grandpa.”
“Oh, he’s not?” said Grandpa Jim, smiling and looking at Brandon’s mother.
“Yeah,” said Brandon, “Zeke told me so!”
At this, Zeke’s parents gave him a stern look. Looking over at Brandon, Zeke said, “No, Brandon, Santa is real.”
“But you told me he was made-up,” said Brandon.
Zeke shrugged his shoulders and attempted unsuccessfully to smile, “You were right; he is real.”
St. Nicholas frowned, “These Christmas celebrations are getting out of hand. A lie for the sake of magic and innocence? These people should know better!”
The next morning, light streaming in the windows, everyone gathered in the living room to open presents. Grandpa Jim opened a package of cookies.
“Ginger snaps!” he said, “How thoughtful.”
Brandon’s mother—Grandpa Jim’s daughter—gave her dad a hug and said, “We knew you’d like them; we remembered from last year!”
Alone in a small room in another part of the house, Zeke and his father were having a talk, “You need to come and spend time with the rest of the family, Zeke,” said his father, “Stop pouting and be grateful for what everyone gives you, even if it isn’t exactly what you want.”
“I am grateful,” said Zeke, “but everyone else got what they wanted. If people are going to get me presents, why don’t they give me what I ask for?”
“They don’t have to give you anything,” said the father.
“That’s right,” agreed St. Nicholas heartily. He sat up in his chair. “What a delightful play!”
Several hours later, Grandpa Jim and his wife were the only ones left. Jim, sitting next to his wife in the living room, surrounded by mountains of torn wrapping paper, passed his hand over his eyes and sighed happily, “This was a good Christmas, eh Mary?”
Mary smiled and nodded, “Yes, Jim, it was. I was glad to see that Shawn had a talk with Zeke, though. He can be so ungrateful sometimes.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much. He’ll probably grow out of it, just like Brandon will grow out of believing in Santa,” said Jim.
“I wonder sometimes why we started teaching that nonsense,” said Mary.
Jim nodded in agreement, then said, “I guess we should start cleaning up now.” He picked up his box of ginger snaps. “Would you like these, dear?”
“Don’t you want them?”
Jim smiled sheepishly and shook his head, “Shawn and Marie got some for me last year, and I didn’t want to be ungrateful, so I told them thanks and I ate a few… but the truth is I don’t really care for them.”
“Oh, you old fool,” said Mary, giving Jim a kiss, “Of course I’ll take them. I love ginger snaps.”
St. Nicholas smiled and said, “Finally a fellow who is thankful for anything he receives.”
The scene changed. It was early on Christmas morning again, and another family woke up to celebrate Christmas…
Two little brothers crept up to their parents’ door and knocked loudly. It was Christmas morning, and they had been awake for over an hour, discussing what they might be getting for Christmas.
“What is it?” yelled a voice.
“It’s seven o’clock,” said Carl, who was the oldest, “You told us we could come and get you at seven so we could open presents!” Carl and his younger brother Joe heard some yawning and then a thump as their dad got out of bed. Opening the door, Carl and Joe’s parents came out into the living room, where the Christmas tree stood twinkling. The tree didn’t interest Carl and Joe this morning though—they were interested in what was underneath the tree. Joe pointed excitedly to a large package under the tree, “This one says it’s for me! Can I open it?”
“Not yet,” said the boys’ dad, “We have to read the Bible first.” Then, opening his old, tattered brown leather Bible to Luke chapter 2, he began reading.
St. Nicholas sat contentedly for a long time, listening peacefully to the words that the man read. As the man drew to the end of the passage, the scene began to fade.
Leaping out of his chair, St. Nicholas cried, “Don’t stop NOW!” Then, seeing that the play was ended, he gathered his robes about him and straightened the cap on his head once again. “Ah well. I see now the Truth may still be found.
Smiling faces, rosy cheeks, and season’s greetings,
Peace on earths and silent nights and many meetings
Presents, trees, caroling; ornaments and ice,
The snowflakes and the silence, above them all is Christ.
And he shall reign forever, the only door for Man.
Forget all else, and celebrate the triumph of the Lamb.”
And with this, St. Nicholas awoke.