A Visit from St. Nicholas
BY CLEMENT CLARKE MOORE
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blixen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House Inc., 1983)
When Santa Lived Next Door in Jerusalem
Nicholas was already famous as a miracle worker by the time he arrived on our street in the Holy Land.
By STEPHANIE SALDANA
Dec. 23, 2013 7:18 p.m. ET
While millions of parents ready their children for Santa Claus’s visit later this week, I get to tell my boys that he actually lived next door to our house.
We don’t live in the North Pole, but in the Old City of Jerusalem, where last spring my husband discovered a small stone house for rent in the Christian Quarter. When we first moved in, I was surprised to see Christian pilgrims climbing the stairs in the courtyard in front of our house and disappearing above us. Soon I discovered that, hidden among the other houses, was the ancient Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Nicholas.
While walking my two sons to school recently, we encountered the Superior of the monastery, Fr. Aristovoulos, and introduced ourselves.
“Why is it named the monastery of St. Nicholas?” I asked. He looked at my two boys and smiled. “It’s because St. Nicholas came to the Holy Land as a pilgrim and stayed in the monastery for a year.” My 5-year-old son’s face lit up. “You mean Santa Claus?” he asked. “The original Santa Claus,” Fr. Aristovoulos answered.
Little concrete is known about the historical St. Nicholas, who tradition says was a bishop in 4th-century Myra, what is now the southern coast of Turkey. All of the legends associated with his life agree that he was a miracle worker—a man known for helping the poor, widows and sailors.
According to Jerusalem tradition, after Nicholas traveled as a bishop to the Council of Nicaea in 325, he continued on to Jerusalem to visit the holy sites associated with the life of Jesus. Fr. Aristovoulos says that it was on his way here that he performed his first miracle. During his voyage across the Mediterranean he foresaw a storm, and he warned the captain and the sailors that their ship would capsize. So Nicholas prayed, calming the sea and saving their lives. Other legends say that he later brought a sailor who died back to life.
According to Fr. Aristovoulos, by the time Nicholas arrived at the house next door to ours, he was already famous. “When he arrived in the port of Jaffa, they spread the word that they had a saintly man, and locals and pilgrims started to ask for St. Nicholas to help them.”
Today, a beautiful stone church marks the place where tradition says he remained for a year, staying with a local family. A second church in the nearby village of Beit Jala commemorates that he slept there. The Jerusalem church is decorated with icons of St. Nicholas, easily recognizable with his white hair and long beard. And on his feast day in December, the church fills with Russian, Greek and Palestinian Christians, lighting candles and paying homage to the saint famous for giving gifts.
“But these are not gifts like giving toys to children,” Fr. Aristovoulos insists. “He gave lifesaving gifts.”
In the most famous story associated with St. Nicholas, he learned about a poor, widowed man who had three daughters. Having acquired many debts, the father decided to sell his oldest daughter into prostitution. When Nicholas heard, he came in the middle of the night and dropped enough coins in the window to pay off the debt. “He takes a handkerchief, maybe a sock, and he puts in 300 gold coins, and he throws it in the open window one night. And that’s enough money for the father to have a dowry to marry off daughter number one,” James Skedros, Professor of Byzantine Studies and Early Christianity at Hellenic CollegeHoly Cross, recounts the story he grew up on.
The daughter, now rescued, is married. Later, the man falls into debt again and contemplates selling his second daughter into prostitution. Again, Nicholas drops enough coins through the window. When the man decides to sell off his third daughter, he stays outside waiting to see who will save her. Perhaps this is the origin of the popular legend of a saint who knows everything, even “when you’re sleeping,” and “when you’re awake.”
For Mr. Skedros, despite the little we know of the Nicholas biography, it is the miracles that matter most. “What’s interesting is that here is a Christian bishop in southeastern Asia Minor who’s not a martyr and who didn’t write anything,” he said. “I think what really plays to his favor is that he gets associated with these wonderful miracles. In fact the Byzantine tradition calls him Miracle Worker.”
This season, as I’ve thought of the stories of St. Nicholas, I’ve been reminded of the miracle of kindness—what some might say is a lifesaving gift. It does feel a bit like a season of miracles in Jerusalem. There’s still snow on the ground from the city’s largest snowfall in decades. This Christmas Eve, I’ll go with my family to Bethlehem, like we do every year. As we approach the city, I’ll choose the brightest star in the sky and tell my two sons that we’re following it to the place where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago. On the way, we’ll pass the hospital where my son was born nearly six years ago, a reminder that miracles don’t just belong in the past.
Then we’ll return home, and I’ll tuck my boys into bed, and we’ll all wait for St. Nicholas to come. If the neighbors are right, he shouldn’t have any problem finding our house.