by Fr Jim Rosenthal
A unique tale of St Nicholas at Wade
The weather at St Nicholas at Wade was always unpredictable. The sun would beam over the mighty church tower one minute and then grey skies would overshadow the main street, thus hot to cold in just moments.
But after all it was winter, and more than that is was St Nicholas Day. The 6th of December is that day when the village, and the whole world celebrates true Santa Claus, the real one, St Nicholas. But this year St Nicholas at Wade villagers, the priest, and the parish council would be in for the shock of their lives, when on this, their patron saint’s day, a visitor would be arriving who would be a surprise beyond surprises.
Many children, at least the good ones, receive gifts on St Nicholas day. Shoes are left out with carrots for St Nicholas mighty horse, horses are very common in St Nicholas at Wade, and even children know they must be cared for as best as one can.
The empty shoes would be filled with a special gift for the boys and girls, thus making the night of 5 December one of excitement and anticipation.
Morning came and no child was left disappointed. The gifts were there and many brought their toys to St Nicholas at Wade school for the assembly, so that the Head Teacher could see them, and that the new Vicar could bless them and everyone on this great festival day.
Some of the children walk to school, but with the strong winds and the light sprinkling of snow, many come by car and bus. Young Ronnie saw something strange as her mum drove past the field by the street called The Length. There she saw a great white horse, one she had never seen. She poked Harry and Hermione, and they too were pleasantly surprised at the sight of such a lovely animal.
School began and prayers were said for children around the world, especially those who are poor or ill, and all who are given no gifts for St Nicholas Day, or even Christmas. Last Sunday at church the Vicar had gathered dozens of toys for a children’s residence where even the young have very little to call their own.
Everyone seemed simply thrilled with their presents from St Nick, and then the Vicar’s assistant told the children some of the great legends of St Nicholas, and how he alone is the real image of what is now called Santa Claus or Father Christmas. The vicar said, ‘Next time you see a man dressed up as Santa Claus, go up to him and say, I know your real name, its St Nicholas, and you are a Bishop of the Church and are patron saint of children and sailors.’
St Nicholas at Wade’s church tower is truly massive, and in years gone by a beacon of hope for sailors, who upon catching sight of it from the decks of their ships, knew that land was near.
The children from the bus began talking, and Harry said, ‘I wonder who owns the horse we saw.’ Hermione looked puzzled, and then said, with great hesitation, ‘Doesn’t St Nicholas usually come on a big white horse?’ Another student, Adam said that he was sure he did. They asked the teacher if they could see the big book the school owned, which was all about St Nicholas. And sure enough they found several pictures of Jolly Old St Nicholas riding on a glorious horse.
But the school bell rang, and it was off to their first class of the day. How the children could study on such a special day was simply amazing, but study they did. The Head Teacher told them that St Nicholas would be proud of them all, and delighted that so many toys had been collected for the poor children.
The Vicar went to the church, as that evening the people would gather for the St Nicholas day service, during which they would sing hymns and take Holy Communion and then process through the dark village with candles ablaze, singing the praises of their patron saint and giving thanks to God for the great example they have in Nicholas.
St Nicholas was born in 260 AD. He lived in what is now Turkey, a place called Myra, which St Paul visited on one of his journeys way before Nicholas’ time. When Nicholas died in 343 AD, he was buried in the great village church, and many visited the place and found there a real sense of prayer and healing. People came in their thousands to pay homage to him.
You see, St Nicholas was born into a wealthy family but his parents died at an early age from a rare disease. So his uncle brought him up, and Nicholas learnt from the old priest to care for the poor, caring for them by leaving money secretly, in the hope that it would make their lives better.
Nicholas, now a priest and soon to be a bishop, went around doing good all the time. His people loved him and he loved his flock!
In Myra, things were changing fast. In 1031 AD, some sailors, thinking that the body or relics of St Nick, were in danger of being destroyed, arrived by boat from Bari, in southern Italy, and forcefully removed the relics and carried them to Italy for safety.
It was there a great basilica was built, and to this very day people come from all over the world, to pray and to ask God for healing, and to thank St Nicholas for all the great stories and legends that make him so loved by all people, even those who are not religious. As the Vicar had told the sixth form, ‘he is a saint for all people.’
Back at St Nicholas at Wade Church, the women were busy decorating the church with lovely flower arrangements, and the choir had begun practicing their hymns about St Nicholas. They sang, ‘There was a good bishop, we call him St Nicholas, a servant of Christ, who loved little children and taught what was right.’
The High Altar had many candles on it, and you could still see the huge image of St Nicholas in the great coloured window.
School was over for the day. Some people had said they had seen a stranger around the village, he was seen in the post office and he visited the pubs as well. What was more he seemed to miraculously appear and then to disappear. St Nicholas at Wade is a very small place, and not much happens without someone noticing it. The bus started down the Street, and the children saw that the great white horse had been moved, and that there was an old man feeding it by the entrance to the Netherhale Farm.
Because it was such a special day, everyone in the village would be coming to the church for the service, and they would all hold candles as they walked through the village as a beautiful witness to their love for God and his saints, especially great St Nick. As it grew dark, many of the Advent and Christmas decorations in front of people’s houses were turned on; it was such a special sight to behold. And the evening seemed to glow with that special light that only Advent can make so wonderful.
Some people at the Village Hall said they had seen the old man, people had noticed him buying some of the St Nicholas chocolates and the Bishop biscuits that were sold at the new village Tea Room.
The bell-ringers began their peals and people rushed to get a good seat so they could hear the organ and see the choir, candles filled the church. Outside it started to snow. Everyone was so happy.
The Vicar appeared in a shiny gold cope that had an image of St Nicholas on the back. The service began and the people sang “Gloria Gloria in excelsis Deo”.
One could smell hot chocolate wafting out from the pubs and mixing with the incense that filled the chancel.
However, as the sermon began, the great heavy door at the porch opened rather loudly, obviously someone new who didn’t know the way to handle their medieval door!
The priest looked up, the people turned around, the choirmaster dropped his hymn book, and there he was, clothed in glorious red robes and a golden mitre!
‘It’s him!’ a young girl called Skye yelled out so all could hear.
‘Who?’ said young Ashby. “It’s him” she exclaimed. The guest hit his golden crosier against the floor and walked up the aisle.
The man who always put on a St Nicholas costume on St Nick’s Day was sitting in the front pew and the Vicar was in the pulpit.
The people became more excited, and some even stood up to see. You could hear the sound of a horse in the porch, as the door was still open.
‘Yes, it’s him!’ the postman cried. Finally one of the school children approached and said, ‘Your majesty.’ The man laughed so hard but thanked the young girl for such a compliment. Another child, young Jacob said quietly to another, ‘I think it’s St Nicholas! The really real one!’ The boy was beyond correct, and the visitor and the Vicar heard what was said.
The visitor put his bag of toys down near the Advent wreath and said, ‘One and all, I am indeed St Nicholas, your patron saint and friend, and I have come home to my village, St Nicholas at Wade!’
People rose to their feet they clapped and they shouted, ‘Welcome St Nick!’ The atmosphere was electric, people were overwhelmed, and the man who was supposed to change into the Nicholas costume didn’t know what to do.
Finally, the man, no longer unknown, asked everyone to be quiet and he turned toward the back of the church where the people had placed a life-size crib scene, complete with Mary and Joseph gazing down at the empty crib, in which the baby would be placed on Christmas eve, all made by a local artist. St. Nicholas said, ‘Please kneel with me.’ And everyone did!
He began to sing ‘Away in a manger, no crib for his bed…’ Everyone sang along, some people began to cry. The Vicar went to the Crib and knelt with St Nick. After a few minutes, St Nick stood up and asked everyone to sit down.
‘I feel that I have come home tonight, to the village named for me, what a joy, what an honour. I have watched you all day, coming and going, your excitement was contagious and your spirit was friendly. Everyone nodded to me, and many tried to feed my horse.’
Then with a smile, he said, ‘I rarely come back – but when I do – I try to find a very special reason. Everyone needs a home, a place to call home. Not everyone has a village named for him. Indeed there are four in the UK and twenty-one in France. But I am here to remind you of what Christmas is all about, and I am here to ask you to help me to tell my story to others.’
St Nicholas continued, ‘Yes believe in me, and in the One I believe in as well. Never think only of Santa, never think only of me without thinking about what this season is all about, because it is about Him.’ He said, as he pointed to the large carving of Christ in Glory by the baptismal font.
‘My job is to make people happy and to prepare them for the miracle of Bethlehem on the twenty fifth of December.’ He looked at the school children, ‘You must do the same!’
He then said, ‘By the way, if you see Santa Claus in the shops, tell him you know his real name!’ Some children remembered the vicar saying the same exact thing!
St Nicholas then approached the man trembling in the choir pews holding his costume with trembling fear and that look of, ‘what should I do?’ He said to the man, ‘Might I ask a favour of you?’
The man stood up and said, ‘Of course, sir!’
‘May I lead the procession down the street, riding my beautiful horse and followed by all you happy people?’ The man said, ‘Yes, please, absolutely.’
The Vicar asked St Nicholas to come and sit near the icon of the saint, and when everyone had received Communion, the organ began playing and they processed outside with their lanterns and candles. The Church Wardens led the saint out to his horse, followed by the golden cross, and then away they went singing one the songs of Nicholas:
Children run, and shout with glee, alleluia,
It is Nicholas they see, alleluia
Bearing gifts, the love he brings, alleluia
Saint of Christmas, now we sing, alleluia
Blessed patron saint and friend, alleluia
Sailors, children you befriend, alleluia
Hear the songs, the church bells ring, alleluia
Thank you for the joy you bring, alleluia
When everyone reached the pubs for hot drinks and those great St Nicholas biscuits, St Nicholas didn’t stop. He started to ride, but turning back by the Village Hall, he cried aloud, ‘Thank you St. Nicholas at Wade! A blessed feast day to you all.’ Everyone stood still, and began to wave goodbye. One little girl shouted, ‘Don’t go, we love you St Nicholas!’ The church bells gave out a mighty peal to honour the saint’s unscheduled appearance and now his dramatic departure.
The amazing visitor and his stunning horse were gone, but the Vicar quietly said, ‘Remember what St Nick said, we can be home to him and to all. You know I think there is a bit of St Nicholas in all of us, at least I hope so.’
As the children, still in awe of what had transpired became tired, the Reader asked everyone to hold hands and say the St Nicholas prayer:
in your great love
you gave your servant
NICHOLAS a perpetual name
for deeds of kindness on land and sea.
Grant that your Church may never cease to work
for the happiness of children,
the safety of sailors,
the relief of the poor
and the help of those who are tossed
by tempests of doubt or grief;
through JESUS CHRIST our LORD,
who lives and reigns with you and the HOLY SPIRIT, one GOD, now and for ever. Amen.
Then from a doorway near the street, a young woman began to sing, ‘Silent Night, Holy Night,’ as the people, never to be the same again made their way down Shuart Lane, Down Barton and Manor Rd. The cold wind from the sea started to build, and people tried to keep warm. Everyone seemed a bit sad that the visitor had left, but the fact that he had come, how could they ever get anyone to believe them? Yet the truth of St Nicholas lives on in all our hearts and in all our actions, if we only let it be. He is truly our friend in heaven. Long live St Nicholas!
St Nicholas at Wade is a real place, located on the Isle of Thanet, Kent, in the United Kingdom. It is approximately 9 miles from Canterbury. It is a small village with 2 pubs and a post office, with a large medieval church and a top-rated Church of England Primary School for over 200 children.
About the author:www.stnicholassociety.co.uk and history:
Jim Rosenthal is a priest of the Church of England. He was born in the USA in 1951 and in 1989 came to England to serve in a post for the Anglican Communion world-wide. He has travelled to more than 60 countries. In 2012 he took the post as Volunteer Parish Priest in St Nicholas at Wade.
He has authored several books including: St Nicholas, A Closer Look at Christmas, Nelson, 2005 USA, The Essential Guide to the Anglican Communion, 1997 Morehouse USA. He founded the St Nicholas Society in 1999 and the society was recognised by the Flemish parent body in 2000.
The Revd Canon Dr Jim Rosenthal dons the vestments of St Nicholas each year, including a festival in Canterbury with the Archbishop of Canterbury, now in its 12th year. He has made appearances in St Paul’s Cathedral, London; Westminster Abbey, London; St John Church, Notting Hill; All Saints Margaret Street, London; St Stephen Walbrook; Annunciation Marble Arch with Oxford Street shops; also in Liverpool, Bedford Park, Knightsbridge, Bayswater, St Nicholas National Shrine Philadelphia, PA USA, Fifth Avenue New York City, Beit Jala Palestine, Madrid, Spain and Los Angeles.
The first festival was held at St Matthew Westminster and is commemorated with a statue in the SS Michael and Nicholas Chapel. Dr Rosenthal has given many interviews and has been featured on television with Channel 4 and PBS in the USA.
Here is the text of a hymn he wrote to honour the irenic village named for the great saint, in Thanet, Kent,
Look he comes, the one expected
Good St Nicholas we see
With your mitre and your crozier
Holy Bishop hear our plea
Make us all most glad as we
Wait for Christ’s nativity
Look he comes, the saint of caring,
For the young, the poor and me,
In his bag, the gifts of plenty
Children run and shout with glee
Make us all most glad as we
Wait for Christ’s nativity
Look he comes, the wonderworker
Miracles and legends tell
Of a man whose holy living
Speaks of how all shall be well.
Make us all most glad as we
Wait for Christ’s nativity
Look he goes, in shining splendour
We are filled with joy and love
May this feast and celebration
Seal our faith in God above
Now in Bethlehem we see
Christ – his blest nativity
Tune: Hela vrilden frőjdes Herran 1676 Swedish (also IRBY, ALL SAINTS) Text: Dr J M Rosenthal 1951 For St Nicholas at Wade 2012
“Colour me” St Nicholas the Real Santa Claus
http://www.stnicholassociety.co.uk and http://www.stnicholascentre.org