Nicholas: A Garland of Tales

for the Nights Before Christmas

This collection of St. Nicholas tales could be told on the seven nights before or after St. Nicholas Day, or on seven nights closer to Christmas, adapted from Pamela Grenfell Smith.

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Byzantine St Nicholas

Western St Nicholas


Long before your grandparents' grandparents' grandparents were born, back when years were counted in only three numbers, in the city of Myra there lived a fine and generous Bishop named Nicholas. He was in charge of every church in Myra—every single one. He lived in a fine house in the nicest part of town, and he never had to worry much about money.

When he could not finish his dinner he would say to his cook, "Here, Cook, give these leftovers to some hungry family."

If he had old clothes he would say to his washerwoman, "Here, Washerwoman! I don’t need these things any more. Let them be given to some poor fellow!"

Every year on Easter Sunday a grand procession of deacons, acolytes and torch-bearers paraded out of the great church at the top of the hill and all around the streets of the city. Bishop Nicholas walked at the end of the procession, the position of greatest honor, wearing a splendid cloak of silk brocade and carrying a mighty silver-and-cedarwood staff. On these occasions, if he saw beggars in the streets he would tell his deacons, "Come, brothers, toss those poor souls a coin or two."

Oh yes, Nicholas lived in comfort and ease, but it was his daily habit to spend time in prayer with the God who loves us and knows our names. God's spirit was working a change in him. As Nicholas sat down to his meat and wine he found himself wondering if anyone in the city of Myra had only a crust of bread for dinner. As he went to sleep in his soft bed with its warm woolen blankets, he wondered if anyone in Myra had to sleep on the hard, cold ground.

So Nicholas’s comfort became bitter to him, and one night after church he put aside his splendid cloak and his mighty staff. Over his robe of white wool he wrapped an old, ragged cloak. He took up a plain wooden staff and slipped out, unseen and alone, into the streets of Myra.

The First Tale

Western St Nicholas

Byzantine St Nicholas

Nicholas walked through the clean, quiet streets near the church. "Look at these fine houses! These people must certainly have enough to eat," he told himself. Down the hill he walked, down to the harbor, where the city was livelier. He had never seen this part of Myra after dark. "How different things are!" he said to himself. "All the noises seem so particularly loud." He pulled his old cloak tight around him and wished he’d brought a deacon or two for company. No one in these crowded streets paid any attention to Nicholas. Without his silk and brocade cloak and his silver-and-cedarwood staff, who could possibly know that he was the Bishop of Myra?

Golden lamplight spilled out of every tavern door, along with the smells of garlic and olive oil. The sailors in the taverns sang and shouted for more wine, and there were streams of laughter from the tavern girls in their bright, dirty clothes. "Look at those children running around. Why are they awake? Surely it is past their bedtime," Nicholas thought to himself. "Can it be that they have no place to sleep? Can even little children be hungry and in need?" Near the docks men sat alone with a wineskin or slept on the ground, drunk. "Why don’t they go home? Do they have homes?" Nicholas wondered. "Are they happy? I don’t understand their lives at all."

At last Nicholas found a stone bench and sat and looked out at the ocean, considering all the people he had seen. "I want to help them," he said to himself, "but they are so different from anyone I have ever known before. Suppose I do the wrong thing! I could make them angry—I could even make them ashamed. And it seems to me that there are more problems here than one person can solve, even if that person is the Bishop of Myra."

Sorely troubled, Nicholas turned his heart and mind to prayer, waiting for guidance. After a while he got up and walked to the street market, where a few stalls were open late. First, he bought a big, strong sack. Then he went to the stall that sold bread and asked to buy twenty loaves of bread.

"Are these all for yourself, old fellow?" asked the baker.

"Oh, no," said Nicholas, "no, no — — they are for — several people."

"Hah," thought the baker to himself, "this old man must have a big family. I’ll tuck in a few extra loaves."

At the stall that sold old clothes, Nicholas asked to buy ten old blankets. "Are these all for your own bed, good sir?" asked the stallkeeper.

"Oh, no," said Nicholas nervously. Why did these strangers keep asking him questions? "No, they are not all for me."

"Hah," thought the stallkeeper, "he must know someone who needs help. I’ll put in a few extra."

When Nicholas hoisted his sack at last, his shoulders ached at the weight of it. "Never mind," he told himself. "All this will be of help to people, I hope." And he walked off all alone into the shadows of the city.

And—that very night——curious things began to happen among the people who lived down by the harbor. This young mother, sleeping with her babes in an alley—how did she happen to find a beautiful loaf of new bread in her arms? She and her children ate it for breakfast and shared it with their friends. And that shiftless old man who passed out in the middle of the street—how did that warm blanket get tucked around him, from his toes to his whiskery chin? All over the city, people were getting presents—but nobody knew where they came from!

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Nicholas: A Garland of Tales is also available as a simple drama

Adapted from Nicholas: A Garland of Tales for the Nights before Christmas, by Pamela Grenfell Smith, Copyright © 1995 Pamela Grenfell Smith. Used under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-Share Alike 3.0 License. You are free to use and adapt it so long as

  1. you attribute authorship and copyright to Pamela Grenfell Smith,
  2. your use is non-commercial, and
  3. you may not copyright your adaptation of this work under a more restrictive copyright.

Illustrations copyright © 2002-2009 St. Nicholas Center All rights reserved.>

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