St. Nicholas

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Santa Meets God: A Dialogue

by Cinca W. Gorman adapted by Sandra Kay Dodson, Christ Congregational Church (UCC), Silver Spring, Maryland

Saint Nicolas
Patrick Hamm limited edition postcard
#419/800, Strasbourg, France
St Nicholas Center Collection

God: Who are you?!

Santa: My story begins in history—at least my predecessor, St. Nicholas, was an historical figure. St. Nicholas was an early Christian bishop who presided over Myra, a city in what we now know as Turkey. Today in America I am known as Santa Claus and my story is legend.

God: My story begins in history as well—in fact, quite a few thousand yearbefore your story, Mr. Claus. My story has no actual place or time of beginning because I have always existed. I created space and time. My story took shape in the lives of a people I chose, the Hebrew people. I was not just their bishop. I AM WHO I AM, YHWH, GOD.

Santa: The most familiar story about me begins, 'Twas the night before Christmas . . .

God: The most familiar beginning line of my story is "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . ." But tell us, Mr. Claus, about your predecessor, St. Nicholas.

Santa: Well, I don't resemble him much anymore. He was only a youth when he became a high church official and was known as the "Boy Bishop." He lovedchildren, I know that. But most of all he was known for his generosity.

God: He was a person who knew how to share and to give?

Santa: Yes, and he was the most popular saint in Christian history! He was the ultimate gift giver. He expected nothing in return for his good deeds.

God: He gave just like Jesus.

Santa: Uh, I guess so, something like that anyway. Once Bishop Nicholas heard a poor man had too little money for his three daughters to marry. Secretly one night, he tossed three bags of his own gold through the poor man's window.

God: Jesus cared for the poor as well.

Santa: No kidding? Tell me about Jesus.

God: You go on with your story. I'll explain later.

Santa: Well, there's another fascinating story of St. Nicholas begging grain from passing merchant ships in order to feed his starving people during a famine. Bishop Nicholas promised the sailors that when they arrived at their destination, it would appear that not an ounce of grain was missing. And so it was!

God: Sort of like feeding the 5,000.

Santa: What?

God: Oh, I'm sorry. Please go on.

Santa: Like I said before, the Bishop was a special friend to children and so he baked bread himself with sugar and spices from exotic lands. He gave these breads to the children. Some American cookie cutters still show the pointed miter of a bishop's hat.

God: Jesus and his followers shared bread with children and many others too.

Santa: Robbers were of special concern to St. Nicholas. In fact, later in England thieves were referred to as "clerks of St. Nicholas."

God: Again, I am reminded of Jesus. He forgave a repentant thief. They were killed together.

Santa: Do you want to hear about St. Nicholas or not? There's another story about a sailboat caught in a terrible storm. The sailors prayed for help and a figure appeared giving them courage and help with the sails and ropes. In an instant, the storm calmed. The ship docked safely in Myra and the sailors went to church and prayed. There they recognized that it was St. Nicholas who had saved them. They thanked St. Nicholas but he told them to thank God.

God: Now that sounds like a re-write of a certain gospel! Tell me, Santa, how much of St. Nicholas is really part of you?

Santa: Well, Dutch sailors took reports of the bishop's generosity back home to Holland. As a result, children began to receive presents on December 6. That is the feast day of St. Nicholas. In Europe St. Nicholas was portrayed as a saint riding a horse carrying a basket of gifts for good children. Naughty children received birch rods, or spankings.

God: But you don't ride a horse in America, do you?!

Santa: No, and I'm not called St. Nicholas anymore either. Sanctus Nichololaus was his name in Latin. In Dutch that was Sinter Klassand. Eventually, Santa Claus became my name.

God: More than your name has changed. Why, you're a fat jolly character that has taken over Christmas.

Santa: Well, when the Dutch came to America they put together a more Dutch- American saint. He wore a broad brimmed hat, smoked a Dutch pipe, and his churchly robe was replaced with short breeches. A man named Washington Irving pictured me as a jolly, chubby fellow riding through the air on a sleigh with reindeer. It was one of your guys that added the finishing touches.

God: My guys?

Santa: Yes. A minister wrote a poem for his children. He called it "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Later it became known as, The Night Before Christmas. His name was Clement C. Moore.

God: And that is the beginning line of your story. Well, there are alot of parallels between your St. Nicholas and my child Jesus.

Santa: Well God, there's alot of people who think you and I are a lot alike you know. It's more than just the beginning lines in our stories. Take where we live for example. Up. At least you can find the North Pole on a map!

God: Not every place that's important is found on a map.

Santa: Agreed. A lot of people think you're not very up to date. They picture you as an old man with a beard.

God: And you—you're a jolly old man with a red coat and beard! At least children can see you.

Santa: Kids write letters to me.

God: People say prayers to me that often sound like letters to you!

Santa: I deliver gifts by sleigh and reindeers, elves help me.

God: I guess it's no harder to believe in reindeer flying than in angels flying.

Santa: Kids think I know everything . . . like if they've been bad or good just before Christmas.

God: They know that I know everything—all year 'round.

Santa: No wonder kids get confused.

God: Oh, it's not just kids. Grown ups are confused too.

Santa: Really?

God: Sure. Remember awhile back I mentioned Jesus?

Santa: Yes.

God: Well, that's what Christmas was originally about, even before St. Nicholas. Nicholas is an Advent saint. His job was to remind people of me, of my generosity. I didn't just pass around toys or video games or aftershave. I gave the ultimate gift. I gave Jesus. Nicholas taught people how to give through his great deeds, as many legends tell. He taught us to give in secret, with no thought of getting a gif back in return.

Santa: But unfortunately, people have forgotten. Is that my fault?

God: I wouldn't blame you, Santa. People like to give and receive gifts and stores, then advertising took advantage of this fact. They watered down the profound and religious aspects of St. Nicholas. In a sense they dressed St. Nicholas and me in a red snowsuit. They changed the bishop's prayers into a chuckling ho-ho-ho. It's time people thought again about the meaning of Advent and Christmas. Greed has taken over for generosity. People fill their lives with things while others need food, clothing, schools and families.

Santa: Does this mean I have to be left out?

God: I think with some reminders about your purpose in Christmas you could still fit in. People need to think in terms of quality, not quantity. Instead of overextending budgets and energies, we need to focus on being present to one another.

Santa: I'm interested in hearing more, but this is a busy time and I have to get going.

God: I know. I know. Just when we get close to really understanding Christmas, a lot of business interferes. Busy, busy, busy. No one can get close to the manger.

Santa: What manger?

God: Oh, a manger in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

Santa: You let Jesus be born in a barn?!

God: Why yes I did. But that wasn't the most amazing part. What really puzzles people is that he was born at all - because it meant me, God, the Creator of time and space - all that ever was and ever will be, came to earth as a human being.

Santa: Why would you want to do that?

God: I loved the world so much, I wanted, I needed to be more a part of it. I wanted people to know me better. I could tell that they needed someone to follow, someone more visible than me. I wanted them to always know that I am part of their lives and world, that I really do know what it's like down in the trenches. I wanted them to see that it is possible to love our friends and enemies.

Santa: Golly, now I see what you mean about giving gifts. You really sent a GIFT. You sent yourself!

God: Yes, yes I did. And some people believe in me more than flying reindeers or anything else. They follow Jesus. They look to Jesus as a spiritual guide leading to ways of compassion, forgiveness and generosity. Christmas isn't just another holiday. It's a season to remember Jesus,me coming to earth. It's a time to renew our hope and work for justice and peace. Well Santa, you go on ahead now and do your thing. I will continue to do mine.

Santa: Mine's giving gifts. What's yours?

God: Giving life.

Santa: God, I'm glad for this opportunity to talk and learn more about who you are and what you've done. ...

God: and what I am still doing!

Santa: I need to be on my way. I wish your children, of all ages, a blessed Christmas, . . . and remember, think about what God said!

By Cinca W. Gorman, adapted by the Rev. Sandra Kay Dodson, Christ Congregational Church (UCC), Silver Spring, Maryland, November 28, 2004. Used by permission.

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