Nicholas: A Garland of Tales

for the Nights Before Christmas

adapted from Pamela Grenfell Smith

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.

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Western St Nicholas

Byzantine St Nicholas

The Fifth Tale

Word got around among the sailors about how Nicholas had stood up to the wicked judge and saved the lives of three of their comrades. Soon, whenever a ship came to the harbor at Myra, some of the sailors would climb up the hill to the church. They’d stand outside the door, hoping to meet Nicholas. “Pray for us, Bishop, when there are storms at sea,” they’d ask him. “Of course I will,” Nicholas told them. “We all will pray, here at the church, every morning and every evening.”

Then a great famine came upon the city of Myra and all the countryside around it. The price of food went up and up, and poor people could not buy enough to eat. In the streets of the city, poor people begged for bread. Night and morning, Nicholas prayed for the city of Myra as parents pray for a sick child. This was how things stood until the day a great ship arrived in the harbor, loaded with wheat.

The merchants of Myra were weak and hungry but they put on their finest clothes and went out to the ship in a rowboat to buy wheat. The Captain would not sell it to them. “This wheat is the property of the rich sea-princes of Alexandria,” he told them. “If I sell it to you, they will throw me to the sharks! Some other ship will come along soon with food for Myra. I cannot spare any.”

When Nicholas heard the news he put on his splendid cloak and picked up his silver-and-cerdarwood staff. With the acolyte, the deacons, the torch-bearers and the choir, he hurried to the harbor. The poor people of Myra, hungry and worried, joined the procession. Nicholas was rowed across to the great ship. He climbed up a rope ladder to the deck of the ship and said to the Captain, “I have come to speak with you, my son, concerning the poor people of Myra, who suffer from hunger. They need this wheat.”

“The poor are liars, honored Nicholas,” the Captain answered. “They are playing on your pity, they are not really hungry. Give them food and they will only gamble it away or sell it to buy wine. The poor are lazy scoundrels! You do not know the poor!”

“You are mistaken, my son,” said Nicholas. “I know the poor. I know their suffering. The merchants asked to buy your wheat and you refused them. I ask you now to give your wheat to the poor people of Myra.”

The Captain was just about to laugh in Nicholas’s face — but he heard his sailors whispering to one another. Bishop Nicholas was their friend, they were saying, their friend who helped them and prayed for them. If their Captain showed disrespect to Nicholas, surely some terrible evil would happen to their ship. A storm? A whirlpool? A sea monster with great jaws to snap their ship in two like a breadstick?

The Captain did not want any trouble with his crew. He sighed and groaned and complained, but he gave Nicholas enough wheat to feed Myra until the next harvest. The people of Myra feasted on new bread that night. What wonderful songs of thanksgiving they sang!

As for the Captain, when he got to Alexandria, his ship was full of wheat again. Maybe he bought it himself, so the sea-princes of Alexandria wouldn’t throw him to the sharks. The sailors told everyone that angels brought it. Who knows? Perhaps it was a present from Nicholas!

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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, Baba-Yaga.org 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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