The Secret of Santa
The Story of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycia
By Bill Godfrey
performed at “A St Nicholas Celebration,” St Nicholas Eve 2001, St Margaret’s Church, Ilkley, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Empty stage. Table down right in front of pulpit stacked with toys, paint, brushes etc. Three stools and one large chair around table. Three young elves run on from left, laughing and fooling around They stop centre stage.
Oi. Stop it you two. We’d better get on before Santa comes back.
Who started it then? We were only having a bit of fun.
Let’s get painting.
They go over to the table, sit on the stools and start painting the toys.
Pass the red.
Not red. I think it’d be better green.
Green’s horrible. Try blue.
Red, green, blue. Red, green, blue. Does it matter, whatever we do?
Enter Santa Claus, left, with empty sack over his shoulder
Yes it does. You know all those colours have got to be right. Sits in chair.
I should think so. The children will expect them to be perfect.
Santa, why are you called Santa Claus?
Oh, it all started a long time ago with a young boy called Nicholas in the town of Patara in southern Turkey. As he grew up he was always helping people, saying his prayers and trying to live as Jesus taught.
What did he do, Santa?
Ho ho! No. It’s too late to start long stories now, young Sven.
We’re not tired.
But I am. Bedtime. I’ll clear up here.
Slowly clearing up
Saint Nicholas—Hagios Nikolaios—San Nicola—Sinterklaas—Santa Claus. Down through the ages, it seems so long. I can’t remember clearly. Maybe in the morning-
Mumbles a little and falls asleep.
Lights dim. Enter Narrator dressed as a monk
Don’t worry, Santa. About five hundred years after Nicholas lived I wrote down all the stories I had heard about him. I don’t know if they’re all true but there’s no doubt he was a very holy man. His father Theophane was a rich merchant in the city of Patara.
Enter Theophane with his wife Nonna who is carrying a baby in her arms
He is a miracle.
After all these years. He is a gift from God.
It’s like Abraham and Sarah.
Or Elizabeth and Zechariah. I wonder if he will be great like their sons?
What shall we call him?
He must be Nicholas. Like his uncle Nicholas. Maybe he will become a priest like him when he grows up. Exeunt
Nicholas’ parents gave. him a good education and. a happy home until they both died in an epidemic when he was fifteen. His uncle Nicholas, the priest, became his guardian.
Enter Nicholas and his uncle
To lose both parents, at your age, Nicholas, is truly a tragedy. I am deeply sorry.
Thank you. But there’s grief everywhere. The illness that took my parents killed many others, too.
I know it’s early days but are you ready to discuss your future?
Yes. I’d like to join your monastery. I have always known I would become a priest one day.
That was your parents’ greatest hope. You’re very young, but I’ll arrange it.You certainly can’t stay here.
I know. But there’s father’s business to be sold and I’ve inherited a lot of money.
You can’t bring your inheritance with you.
I understand that. But there are many in need in the city after the epidemic.
I’m sure that a son of Nonna and Theophane’will find a good use for the money. I must go now but I’ll be in touch soon. Exeunt
Nicholas had already helped some of the poor and needy. He had also heard that morning, that his next door neighbour, a nobleman, had lost all his money through bad luck and bad judgement.
Enter Nobleman and his three daughters, Helen, Marina and Cressida
So that’s it girls. The house is to be repossessed tomorrow; I have no money to pay my debts and certainly nothing for dowries.
So we’re to be sold off like cattle?
Sciron has offered me a good price.
That robber! He doesn’t know the meaning of a good price.
At least you’ll all three be together.
What for? To be nice to a horrible old man?
Even if we can’t get married at least we could stay and look after you.
I shall just have to manage as best I can.
Viciously It’s a pity you didn’t manage better earlier. To her sisters Come on you two, let’s make the best of our last night in this house.
Move away from their father and settle down to sleep. Father settles down separately.
After a short while Nicholas enters in a long hooded cloak and watches the sleepers carefully from a distance. He is carrying three bogs of gold He pulls the hood over his face and creeps up to where the three girls are sleeping, puts down the bags and creeps out.
The girls wake up and mime surprise, happiness and relief.
The girls were all able to make good marriages with their dowries. Nicholas always tried to make his gifts in secret and many people in Patara only knew of their good fortune and nothing of the giver. When Nicholas had sorted out his affairs he went to the monastery to start his training. After several years of hard study he was ordained priest.
Enter Nicholas and his uncle
At last you have achieved your ambition. You are now a priest and can start your ministry to God’s faithful.
I have one favour to ask before that. I would like to go on a pilgrimage to Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem to see where Our Lord lived and died for us.
It will not be easy but I feel that you must go. God bless your travels. Exeunt
So Nicholas sailed from Patara to the Holy Land and after several months was on a ship sailing back to Patara when a storm arose. For two days and nights the sailors strove against the wind and waves which threatened to overcome the ship. Nicholas did the only thing that he could, he prayed and the whole ship’s company joined him in his prayers and on the third morning the storm abated. They had been blown badly off course and the battered ship limped into port at Myra where, during Nicholas’ absence the bishop had died and the local church could not agree on who the new bishop should be.
Enter three elders
We’ve been arguing and praying, for nearly three months since the bishop died and we’re no nearer coming to a decision.
How can we be sure we’ll pick the right man to succeed him?
I’ve had a dream. Last night I had a visit from an angel and he told me how we would know who was to be the next bishop of Myra. We are to go to the church and wait just inside the doorway. At dawn a man named Nicholas will be the first to enter the church and he will be worthy of the office of bishop.
They retire into the chancel and close the reredos gates. Enter Nicholas with the ship’s crew
I told you I didn’t like the look of it.
Roughest one I’ve ever been in.
But we’ve survived.
It wasn’t down to. us, it was down to him. Thumbs at Nicholas
It was down to faith that God would save us. Now we’re going to church to thank him properly. Here we are.
Pushes open the gates and steps back as the elders come forward
Good morning. Please could you tell us your name?
Looking slightly bewildered
I am Nicholas, priest of the monastery at Patara
The three elders look at each other, smiling and nodding their heads
Then welcome, Father Nicholas. You have, been chosen to be the new bishop of Myra.
But I’m only a young priest. I was only ordained six months ago.
We have been undecided for two months since Bishop Iconius died, but last night Brother Lawrence had a vision that the new bishop of Myra would come through these doors at dawn today and his name would be Nicholas.
Looks heavenwards and down again
So it seems to be the will of God.
Turn and exeunt up the chancel
For several years Nicholas worked quietly in Myra, leading the church until the Emperor Diocletian persecuted the church and had him imprisoned for five years. After this the Emperor Constantine became Roman Emperor and also became a Christian and Nicholas was able to continue his work as bishop of Myra. There he met and befriended many important people, including three Roman generals who had sailed into Myra to avoid a storm at sea. These three, Ursus, Apilion and Nepotian then returned to Rome, where they were thrown into prison without trial
Enter the three generals chained and guarded
You won’t have to stay here long. The execution’s tomorrow. Exit
So. who’s behind this do you think?
I’m pretty certain it’s Caius and his friends. They’ve been plotting ever since Constantine promoted us and they’ve made the most of their time while we’ve been fighting out East.
Well, it looks as though we’ve had it. There’s to be no trial, Constantine won’t even see us and they’re going to take us out and execute us tomorrow. I wish that bishop we met in Myra, what was his name… .
Nicholas. How could you forget his name?
I wish he were here now to save us as he saved those three innocent men’s lives.
The way he snatched the sword from the executioner’s hands and then stormed in to sort out that evil consul-
Let’s pray. Let’s pray that somehow Nicholas can help us here.
So they prayed all night until early in the morning; the guard came back.
On your feet.
This looks like the end, my friends.
Stand up straight for the Emperor.
I’ve been dreaming about you three. What powers do you have to make me have visions?
Sir, we are not magicians. Nor have we done anything wrong to deserve death without trial.
What do you know of a man, a bishop, named Nicholas?
We met him when we had to stop over in Myra. A very upright and holy man; he saved some men there from execution who had been falsely accused.
It seems he makes a habit of trying to right injustice. He appeared to me and my administrator in dreams last night and ordered us- ordered me, the Emperor, to set you free or live to regret it.
He is a very powerful man of God.
Go and thank God who has saved you through this Nicholas. And go to Myra with gifts from me to this bishop and ask him to pray for me.
Exit followed by generals and the guard
So they went to Myra and told Nicholas the whole story. He asked them to sit down and began to tell them of God’s tremendous love and power. There are many more stories of Nicholas’ goodness and kindness while here on earth, and finally, on December 6th in the year 343, he passed into the next life. Since then the power of his spiritual intervention has been credited with many, miracles. He was made a saint nearly a thousand years ago because he was a very holy person and lived what the Gospel asks of us. Because some of his acts were done mysteriously he has become our saint of surprises and his spirit is within each of us whenever we do a good deed in secret. But now it’s time for me to go. Just before he went to sleep did you hear Santa saying some of the names that Saint Nicholas has been called in different languages. In Holland he was known as Sinterklaas and when some Dutch people emigrated to America four hundred years ago they took the story of the saint and his feast day with them. Now I will leave you with the children of the world as they celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas. Wake up Santa
Coming awake as children in various national costumes enter with the elves
Oh, oh, goodness. Gracious me. I’ve had such a dream- The children and elves dance round the workshop calling out the name that the saint is known by in their own language Whoa! Stand still a minute. Here we are-and not very secret.
Goes round handing out sweets to the cast and audience as the principals enter to take a final bow
By Bill Godfrey, performed at “A St Nicholas Celebration,” St Nicholas Eve 2001, St Margaret’s Church, Ilkley, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom. Used by permission.