The Saint Nicholas Secret
by Dennis Eugene Engleman
A story of childhood faith reborn in the heart of a father.
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About the Book
many cultures learn early to believe in Santa Claus. To them he
is both virtually omniscient, knowing of their good or bad behavior,
and virtually omnipotent, capable of the stupendous feats of flying
and visiting homes throughout the world on Christmas night. While
fictional characters such as Peter Pan and Superman remain in the
backwaters of fantasy and are not expected actually to appear in
one's living room, Santa Claus is confidently supposed to tumble
down chimneys, leave presents, then feast on milk and cookies.
Television, film, books and (most significantly) parents persuade
youngsters that this eccentric and amazing personage is actually
real - that he can and will influence their young lives. When such
an authoritative cultural message is reinforced by the receipt of
delightful gifts, children are only too glad to believe in the benevolent
man in red.
This situation provides the context for one of childhood's earliest
conflicts of faith. After awhile, children begin to suspect something
is wrong with the stereotypical Santa Claus of shopping malls. As
maturity refines their sense of the credible, his exploits begin
to strain reasonable credulity. When these forlorn suspicions are
finally confirmed by the very adults who had formerly fostered their
faith in Santa Claus as an imaginary being, many children experience
some degree of emotional and spiritual trauma.
It is a sad moment when these children suffer not only the loss
of their beloved Christmas benefactor, but also the awareness of
having been deceived by those in whom they should have had most
reason to trust. It is no use then to speak of "good intentions"
or to suggest that such painful experiences are justified merely
by being commonplace. Innocent hearts cannot easily comprehend why
the Santa Claus who had previously been touted so highly is suddenly
gone forever, and in fact never really existed. Even when their
immediate sorrow and anger have passed, a sense of betrayal may
linger, perhaps only dimly perceived, for years to come.
Yet to deny children this Christmas tradition would be unkind, if
not impossible. In spite of Santa's logic-defying escapades and
the commercial abuses to which his name and image are subjected,
generations have rightly perceived him to be both boon and blessing.
The incongruity lies not in his saintly character, but rather in
a worldly culture so impervious to spirituality and insensible of
the truly miraculous that it presents Santa as a farce and a cartoon,
eventual disbelief in whom is inescapable.
But how is one to teach this delightful tradition to children and
still preserve them from later disappointment? There is a way, a
simple yet profound way - which we may call the Saint Nicholas Secret.
It is revealed in this volume, which is a mostly true story both
for adults and for the children who will one day be adults. It is
the story of how one child's broken faith eventually led, through
strange twists, to his grown-up renewal of faith. And it is the
story of St. Nicholas, that mysterious, otherworldly and absolutely
real person who has one foot on the rooftop and the other in eternity.
Having grown up in a Dutch home, the feast of St. Nicholas, which we called
Sinterklaas, was the highlight of the year in our family, as it still is in
most Dutch families. While the feast has been secularized over the years, and
is celebrated by Catholics, Protestants, Jews and atheists alike, there is
always an acknowledgment of the Bishop of Myra and his many charitable deeds
back in the 4th century.
With this background, I was drawn to The Saint Nicholas Secret: A Story of
Childhood Faith Reborn in the Heart of the Father. The author, Dennis E.
Engleman, tells about the most disappointing day in his life, when his mother
told him St. Nicholas wasn't real, and how it left a long-lasting emptiness
in his heart. He sought to avoid any reference to St. Nicholas with his own
children, in the hopes of sparing them the same disappointment. But kids being
kids, he was asked the inevitable question.
Engleman goes on to describe a business trip to Europe, and a life-changing
string of events. While on a tour of the Chartres Cathedral in France, the
guide explains a sculpture they are viewing, and he is shocked to discover he
is talking about a real person known as St. Nicholas. He hears some of the
same stories I heard in my childhood, such as the one about the young bishop
Nicholas saving three young women from poverty by secretly providing money for
their dowries to their poor father.
Then he skeptically listens to stories of miracles associated with the
remains, or relics, of St. Nicholas, originally buried in Myra (now in
Turkey), but which were moved to Bari, Italy in 1087. As it turned out, Bari
was the final destination on Engleman's business trip, so he decided to visit
the Basilica Pontifica Di. S. Nicola. There at the dark candlelit crypt, by
the sarcophagus of St. Nicholas, in the wonder of the place, he recites a
letter he had written as a child:
Dear St. Nicholas,
I cannot begin to describe the power of the experience that follows, but
suffice it to say he receives a 'gift...finding the hope and faith which had
been lost long ago.'
Please bring me something nice. I have tried to be good. I love you.
When I picked up this book, I thought it was designed to be read aloud to
children, but parents (or any) should really read it first. It reawakens some
of those childhood wonders and disappointments that many of us have
experienced, and then helps to build a sense of awe and wonder at this
wonderful saint, recognised by all Christian traditions, who really lived and
served Christ faithfully, and continues to live in heaven.
The book concludes with 'Suggestions to Parents,' which will help readers
decide how to handle the St. Nicholas question in their own homes. There is
also an Epilogue which quotes extensively from a twelfth century document
about St. Nicholas.
- Volkert Volkersz
|About the Author
Dennis Eugene Engleman began his career as a writer by visiting some of the world's most fascinating historical sites. One such was the tomb of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Bari, Italy. Here Dennis had a profound experience that continues to affect his life nearly twenty years later. Over one hundred magazine articles and five published books have reflected, in some way, the intensity of that experience. Allow him to share the beauty of this sublime and unique story with you through The Saint Nicholas Secret.