Why, St. Nicholas?
by Alison Berger
Card sent by Belgian Post Office in response to a child's letter to Sinterklaas, 1983
St Nicholas Center Collection
Among many other things, St. Nicholas is known as the patron of modem drama. In medieval times, plays and drama were rare except for liturgical drama based on Scripture, usually depicting the Resurrection or the Nativity. But in the first part of the 12th century, schoolboys in Western Europe began to perform simple plays portraying miracles attributed to St. Nicholas. These plays were a means to celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas, who was the patron of many churches and schools of the time.
These early medieval dramas, known as "miracle plays," were often written in three parts to honor the Trinity. The stage settings and costumes were simple and most of the lines were choral chants in Latin or French. Intended to instruct or edify the audience, these dramas illustrated the sincere faith and trust which the people of the day had in the intercession of St. Nicholas.
The following three-act play, Why, St. Nicholas?, adapted here by Alison Berger, retells a traditional St. Nicholas drama—the miraculous rescue of a young boy who had been kidnaped. The rescuer, of course, is St Nicholas!
Characters: St. Nicholas, Julia, Jimmy, Cethron, Euphrosina (Cethron's wife), Adeodatus (their son), King Marmorinus, the Queen, Soldiers, Servants, Friends of Cethron and Euphrosina.
Scenes: outside of a church; King Marmorinus' court; home of Cethron.
Props: The opening scene takes place in front of the stage curtain, or off to one side of the set. Only a few wrapped Christmas gifts are needed. The "outside of a church" can be made from a large cardboard container (e.g., from a refrigerator or washing machine), with a simple paint job and a few ornaments adorning it. The King's court needs two armchairs covered with rich-looking material, and a table. The home of Cethron can also be represented with two chairs, a small table, and perhaps a picture on the wall.
(Julia and Jimmy are sitting on the floor, wrapping small Christmas gifts.)
Julia (finishing one):
Well, that's the last one. Won't Mrs. Peters be surprised we finished?
Yes, now the class can bring these presents to the Children's Hospital on Saturday.
I wonder how all this gift giving business started anyway. . . . You know, Santa and presents and all. . . .
Why don't you call Santa and find out!
(From the background): Ho, Ho, Ho!
Julia: What did you say, Jimmy?
Jimmy: I . . . I didn't say. . . .(Again, but closer):Ho, Ho, Ho-o-o-!
Jimmy! (St. Nicholas comes in) I can't believe this is happening. . . .
Hello, Julia! Hello, Jimmy!
Julia and Jimmy:
Uh . . . hello . . . Santa!?
St. Nicholas (laughs):
Yes, I'm known as Santa Claus. Also, Sinter Klaas, St. Nicholas, you name it. . . . I heard you have some questions for me.
Well, as a matter of fact, I was wondering how you and giving presents got to be part of Christmas?
Yes, what's the connection?
Good question; very good! I'm sure you know what Christmas is all about. . . .
Of course, the birth of Jesus!
Well, many, many years ago, about 310 years after Jesus was born, I was made bishop of Myra. Like Jesus, I especially loved children and I helped people out of trouble whenever I could. From heaven, I've been helping people for hundreds of years now.
Suppose I take you back to the fourth century and show you what I mean. . . . (He leads the children to the outside of a church. A group of people are coming, including Cethron, Euphrosina and their son.)
Where are we?
Why don't we listen and find out?
Cethron (turning to the people):
Friends, we have come here to celebrate the feast day of our good St. Nicholas. Eight years ago on his feast my son, Adeodatus, was born.
As you all know, I had this church built to thank God for my son, and to thank St. Nicholas for his prayers for us all.
Let us pray together in thanksgiving.
(They are all about to enter the church when a group of soldiers appear. Everyone screams and runs, except the boy who is seized by one of the soldiers.)
Come with us.
What are they going to do with him?
(Court of King Marmorinus. King and Queen are seated. Soldiers bring in Adeodatus.)
0 King, we have done what you ordered. We have made many people your subjects.
And we are bringing this boy to you. He is strong, intelligent, and of a noble family.
We think he will do well in your service.
Thanks be to Apollo! And my thanks to you, loyal soldiers. (Soldiers bow and leave.)
Well, young man, tell us about your land and family. What is the faith of your people?
My father is Cethron, prince of the people of Excoranda. We worship God, the Creator of all things, who made you, 0 King, and me and all people. And we believe in the Holy Trinity—the Father-Creator, His Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Well, the great Apollo is the god of my kingdom. You should worship him now that you are here.
Your god is a false god. He can't see, or hear, or speak. You should believe in my God, the living God.
Your God did not even keep you safe in your own home! And you will see, he will not help you to escape either!
My God takes care of me wherever I am. And St. Nicholas, who is God's friend, will pray for me.
(Bows and leaves.)
That boy sure believes in your help.
What happens next?
Now a whole year goes by. . . .
(Scene: Cethron's home. Euphrosina and Cethron and friends. Euphrosina is crying.)
Oh my poor son! It has been a year since we lost him! How could I have left him? How could I have let them take him?
Don't cry, good Euphrosina. God will take care of your son. Let us pray for him.
I am very sad. Without my son, there can be no happiness for me.
This grief only hurts you and doesn't help your son. From your wealth, give to the poor, as good St. Nicholas did. And ask the saint to pray for your son.
These friends are right, my dear. Let us seek God's help and the kind intercession of St. Nicholas.
Euphrosina (kneels down):
Holy God, King of all kings, let our son be returned to us. Good St. Nicholas, hear our prayer. Today, your feast day, we will prepare a table of food for the poor.
(Court of King Marmorinus. King and Queen are seated at table.)
My dear, I am famished. I've never been as hungry as today. (to the servants) Bring us something to eat.
(Servants bow, leave; then return, carrying trays or bowls; Adeodatus comes in last, carrying a cup of wine.)
King (eats a bit, then): I was hungry, now I am thirsty. Bring me wine, son of Cethron.
Adeodatus (to himself, as he presents wine to the king):
Poor me, as long as I live I'll never be free unless St. Nicholas comes to help me.
(He starts to hand the cup to the king. St. Nicholas suddenly appears, puts his cloak around the boy and they exit. King and his servants exclaim in surprise and are stunned.)
(Cethron's home. Euphrosina is praying, surrounded by friends. Suddenly, St. Nicholas and Adeodatus appear.)
Are my eyes playing tricks on me? Is it really you—my son?
Mother! Father! (They hug each other.)
(St. Nicholas turns again to Julia and Jimmy, smiling.)
Do you understand a little more now? The people were so grateful for my prayers and help that on my feast day they gave gifts to the poor in memory of the good that I did.
But . . . what does that have to do with Christmas?
Giving gifts to others, besides the poor, soon became a custom. I brought the gifts to each home on the eve of my feast day. Then, in the 18th and 19th centuries, in some countries people wanted to have the gift giving on Christmas Eve.
Like we do now?
Right! And in this country, St. Nicholas eventually was portrayed as a big elf and was called Santa Claus, from the Dutch words "Sinter Klaas."
So now you—as Santa Claus—bring gifts on Christmas Eve . . . because you are a good friend of Jesus!
Smart girl! And gift giving is just right for Jesus' birthday, don't you think? Because what are gifts signs of?
Well, we give gifts to people because we love them.
And Christmas is the feast of the greatest love the world has ever known. My job is to point the way to Jesus, the gift of life.
Wow! That's great. Thanks a lot, Santa, uh, I mean, St. Nicholas!
St. Nicholas (going off stage): Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas to all!
From How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus: The True Story, (Project Book) by Alison Berger, Copyright © 1993, Daughters of St. Paul. Used by permission of Pauline Books & Media, 50 St. Paul's Avenue, Boston, MA 02130. All rights reserved.