Here’s To You, Santa Nick!

“When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2-4)

“So let us give without reward
For we’re giving for the Lord.
If none know, then better yet!
For nothing can beat that joy you get.
No, nothing can beat that joy you get.”
(From “The Ballad of Saint Nick”)

Today marks one of many beginnings of the Medieval Church’s traditional Christmas season (our modern “Christmas season” took over a thousand years to round into its current form). It is the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, better known in today’s world as Santa Claus. What??? Yes, Santa Claus. It was on December 6th, 345 that the great saint died after a lifetime of humility, charity and quite a few miracles.

kale-st-nick-statue2-c-andrysThe true story of Santa Claus is almost more remarkable than our modern fiction. Born of nobility in a small village in Southwestern Turkey, Nicholas became a Christian during the time of great persecution that preceded the rise of Constantine to the Roman throne. He was known for his fiery demeanor, often mixed with righteous justice, but also for his humility. He stood on the side of gospel truth at the famous Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, vigorously defending the deity of Jesus Christ. Yes, Santa Claus stood before a council of bishops and Roman authorities and stood up for Jesus. Santa. Minus the red coat and flying reindeer, of course.

nicholasNicholas is credited with many miracles during his lifetime, from raising the dead to cursing the wicked, but a simple tale of secret giving to a poor father headlines his legacy.

Back in 2005 I attempted to put this remarkable story of generosity to poetry and I even developed a song version for an never-completed Christmas album project. From this story of Saint Nick came the tradition of giving to the poor at Christmastime and, eventually, giving gifts to each other. Yes, our cherished Christmas morning present-opening tradition owes its life to the humble tale of Nicholas.

Nicholas is one of my most admired heroes of the Christian faith. I can only hope to follow in the shadow of his mighty legacy. Here is the original “The Ballad of Saint Nick” poem I wrote 11 years ago.

O come my children and hear
A legend that’s grown every year
Of young Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

Tonight, before you can rest,
And dream of your Christmas best,
Think of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

This you must know, a long time ago,
A man had three lovely daughters
He had no money in hand, but dowries to plan
And he had no idea just where to go

One silent night, he awoke with a fright
At the crashing of metal and wood
He dashed out his door, and there on the floor
Was a sack of gold… but no one in sight

A year soon went, and the money was spent
But his little girl fell in love
How could it be, but down the chimney
Another sack of precious mint

When his youngest gal, though, longed to wed her beau
His cupboard again was bare
He said, “I know he’ll come back, I’ll set me a trap
For this kind man’s name I must know.”

Some metal and string, some bells that will ring
Fastened outside the front door
Late one eve, the bells broke the peace
As the giver was fleeing the scene

“Wait, good sir!” yelled the happy father
“Tell me, why should you think of me?”
The giver of night, came into the light
The bishop was the benefactor

“Good sir Nick,” the dad did quip
“Why did you run and hide?”
“Because it’s better to give, and then let live
With only the Lord to know of it.”

And so my children, ‘twas born
A tradition of giving without reward
Of good Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

And when you wake tomorrow morn
Before each wrapping is bruised and torn
I want each of you to praise the Lord
For Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

Here is the song lyric version:

The Ballad of St. Nick

Come my children, and gather ‘round
And hear a legend long passed down
Of a saint of God from long ago
A gracious man, whose name you know

Well, the story, it goes this way
There was a dad in an ancient place
He had three girls of marrying age
But he was poorer than a page

One dark night at three A.M.
There was a crash that startled him
He peeked outside his bedroom door
‘Twas a sack of gold there on the floor
A sack of gold there on the floor!

One year passed and just the same
Another gift came unexplained
When his daughter fell in love
And he needed a gift from above

Down the chimney came a crashing sound
The father rose, then hit the ground
For laying there, to his surprise
Was a bag of gold where the fire lies
Yes, a bag of gold where the fire lies

By the time his youngest girl
Longed to join the wedded world
The father hoped that once again
The secret giver would come to him

So he set a trap of bells and string
And late one night, those bells did ring
The man jumped up, dashed to the door
His eager heart could wait no more
His eager heart could wait no more

He opened the door and saw a man
Caught in the trap that was set for him
It was the young, familiar face
Of Nicholas, a bishop of grace

He said, ‘Good sir! Why choose me?
Nick replied, ‘I saw your need’
‘But why’d you hide in mystery?’
The giver said, ‘It’s not about me.’

‘I seek to give without reward
For I’m giving for the Lord
And that’s enough to make my day’
For the joy of the Lord had made his day
Yes, the joy of the Lord had made his day

The father could not contain his joy
He told every man, woman, girl and boy
Of what Saint Nicholas had done
His story grew into a tradition

Oh, my children; listen to me
It’s more bles’d to give than receive
You see those presents under the tree?
I give to you, for God gave you to me

So let us give without reward
For we’re giving for the Lord
If none know, then better yet
For nothing can beat that joy you get
No, nothing can beat that joy you get