I wrote this story for parents like me who want to share the fun of Santa while making Christmas completely about Jesus. As I’ve said to my own children time and again,
“I don’t know much about Santa; all I know is that he loves Jesus so much that he wants to give presents to kids on His birthday.”
(Please note that this isn’t meant to be historically accurate; it’s just a story.
But there’s plenty of truth in it for me.)
In the weeks following Christ’s birth, the news about the baby King began to spread. The shepherds told everyone they knew, and so others began to visit the newborn babe. They added their own stories to the story of the shepherds, telling all of their neighbors, friends, and acquaintances.
Soon the Good News had spread far and wide and even up into the North Country, where it met the ears of a kind man named Nicholas. Nicholas went home to his wife and told her of the baby who had his own star.
“Even thinking about babies makes me a bit tired,” said Nicholas’s wife. “After raising all of ours, I’m done with colic and mending torn clothes. I love them, but I’m glad they’re grown and doing well.” Then, when she saw the look of sadness on her husband’s face, she added, “But I do miss them sometimes.”
“I do, too,” Nicholas sighed, running a hand through his silvery white hair. After a pause, he surprised himself by declaring, “I believe I’ll go and see how that baby’s getting along.”
“But, Dear, we’re so far from Bethlehem,” said his wife. “And we don’t have anything suitable for a cradle gift.”
Nicholas picked up a shiny, red apple and smiled. “This will do just fine,” he said.
And so Nicholas donned his walking boots, his cap, and his new, fur-lined coat. He filled a sack with provisions for the trip, carefully nestling the apple inside. Then he set his eyes on the star.
His journey took him far longer than he’d supposed, yet each morning when he checked the apple, it was still perfectly round and red. After days and days of travel, Nicholas arrived in Bethlehem and found the home beneath that star. To his amazement, he saw a caravan of camels—animals he had only read about—waiting outside the door. What other wonders were in store?
As he entered, Nicholas saw a small group of men kneeling before a toddler who peeking out from behind his mother’s dress. Surely these were the men who had arrived on the camels; Nicholas had never seen clothing such as theirs. As the men laid expensive-looking gifts before the beautiful youngster, the child looked curiously at their fine attire.
Nicholas looked down at himself. He could feel the blush rising in his already wind-burned cheeks as he considered his own appearance. His black boots, which seemed as foreign in this land as the silk slippers of his fellow visitors, were scuffed from his travels. His red coat was no longer new, but marked with soot from the fires he’d slept beside.
And his sack was nearly empty. The apple inside seemed a meager gift when compared with the offerings that now sat at the child’s feet. Nicholas suddenly felt unsure.
Then the little boy saw him and smiled shyly. It was Nicholas’s turn to approach the young king. He reached into his pack and pulled out the shiny red apple. He crossed the room toward the boy, bent down, and gently placed it in his hands.
The delighted boy broke into a grin and tossed the apple into the air. Nicholas caught it and juggled it briefly before making it disappear, then reappear behind the child’s right ear. The toddler laughed and reached his arms toward Nicholas.
Nicholas hesitated, looking to the boy’s parents. But they were smiling as well and nodded their assent. Nicholas joyfully lifted Jesus up, up, up, into the air, finding it the most natural thing in the world to hold a little one again. How he had missed that feeling!
He settled onto a nearby chair and sat the toddler on his lap. He reached out a finger to tickle the boy’s tummy and was rewarded with a sweet giggle. Then Jesus made Nicholas chuckle by tickling his own amble belly in return. Next, the child gave a gentle tug on the white beard that had grown during Nicholas’s travels, as if testing to see if it were real. Then Jesus knelt on Nicholas’s lap, placed his chubby hands on the sides of Nicholas’s face, and looked straight into his eyes.
For a moment, Nicholas was astounded by the eyes of the child before him. In them he saw something unknowable, something astounding, something so special that it took his breath away. Then the feeling passed and he simply felt wonderfully known…and loved. So loved.
He suddenly heard the clearing of a throat and turned to see an old, old man standing in the corner of the room. As the man began to make his way toward him, Nicholas arose, holding Jesus in the crook of his arm. He took a few steps toward the fragile man as if to help him.
“Nay, nay,” the man said in a surprisingly strong voice. “I’m not quite as old as Methuselah, or even Moses. I was blessed by Yahweh and allowed to live until I met the Messiah, and my eyes have seen His salvation. Now I have been twice blessed; I have seen you play with the Christ child, and it did my heart good. You’re very good with children, aren’t you?”
“Well,” said Nicholas, “I do love them. I had several of my own, but now they’re all grown and gone. I, too, feel incredibly blessed to know this child.” He smiled warmly at Jesus, his eyes twinkling.
“How would you like to make children happy always?” asked Simeon.
“I’m not sure it’s possible to make children happy all the time,” smiled Nicholas. “If they’re allowed to run, they’re bound to fall. And when they disobey, they need discipline to help them learn what’s right.”
Simeon laughed at the misunderstanding. His laugh was so full, so merry, that Nicholas found himself laughing along. I could laugh like that, thought Nicholas. Now that I know this child, I know that joy.
“No, my friend, you will make children happy for always. The Spirit has moved me to pronounce a blessing upon you, Nicholas. Each year, to commemorate the birth of this special child, you will make children all over the world happy. They will look to you, and you will point the way toward the child whom they’re celebrating.
“As they grow older, they will look to the Christ for an even greater happiness. They will look to Jesus for light, for revelation, and for the forgiveness of their sins. He will lead many, many souls to God’s Eternal Kingdom.”
“May it be to me just as you have said,” Nicholas replied, unknowingly echoing the words of the young mother beside him. Then, as he once again looked into the eyes of the Christ child, the full meaning of the old man’s words began to dawn in his heart. He threw back his head and laughed with the joy of it.
“Ho, ho, ho!”
Merry Christmas, my friends.
With much love,
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(“Nicholas and the Christ Child” is my very, very loose adaptation of the Roark Bradford tale “How Come Christmas?”)
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