Santas I Have Known (part 3 of 4)

Posted: December 4, 2010 in Christian, Christmas Fun, holiday, Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Writing/Publishing

I met the real Santa Claus.

I didn’t meet him at the mall or wave to him as he rolled by, strapped to the top of the firetruck during the annual Christmas parade. I met him in person at a small Orthodox Christian church in South Carolina.

Saint Nicholas.

In person.

It happened about a week before Christmas in 2000. I was a reporter for the Aiken Standard newspaper and the city editor gave me a last minute assignment.

“I want you to take a photographer and go interview Saint Nicholas tonight.”

I had to do some schedule shifting since it was a last minute assignment during the Christmas season. But it’s not every day you get to interview the Big Man himself. So, I shifted, got a photographer, and later that night we headed to a little Christian Orthodox church not too far away. We were both a little harried and tired from the sheer number of stories we had been covering that week. During Christmas there are more than enough stories to go around, and a good reporter and photographer can log a lot of miles and use a lot of film (now digital space) and ink in a week.

The photographer mumbled a not-so-silent prayer just before we went in. “Lord, please don’t let this be some guy in a cheesy suit wanting free publicity for their Christmas bazaar.”

The moment we entered the building, his prayer was answered. We walked into a spacious room illuminated with candles in clear votives. There were arrangements of holly, evergreen, red berries and taller white candles in tall clear glass holders on the windowsills.

“Welcome travelers,” boomed a voice from the far end of the room. “I am Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.”

From that moment, our expectations were scattered like snowflakes on the winter breeze. We were not looking at a cheap Santa knockoff  advertising anything. We were in the presence of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. Patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, children, and students. We were standing face-to-face with the man known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. Then original gift giver. The bishop who, because of his compassion, was said to leave coins in the shoes of those poor people who left them out for him.

This was not so much an interview as an audience.

Saint Nicholas never broke character, and for the next twenty minutes he recounted “his” life, travels, and the events which led to his later becoming the model for Santa Claus. He told us of the death of his parents. They died in an epidemic and he was subsequently raised by his uncle—also named Nicholas—who was the bishop of Patara. His parents had been wealthy, and when he inherited their wealth, he used the money to help others.

I let the tape recorder ruin, made an occasional note, and the photographer (once he got over the initial shock), took some great photos.

When our time together was over, Nicholas, bishop of Myra, later to inspire a legion of red and white clad men known as Santa Claus, blessed us.

I have never forgotten that evening.

It becomes especially precious this time of year.

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