Saint Nick

It was one of those big Catholic churches. The chapel was enormous. The spire was tall enough to interfere with air traffic. Nobody builds them like the Catholics.

I was meeting Father Ralph for an important appointment. He was waiting for me in the front pew.

I entered the sanctuary, took a knee and crossed myself. I was not raised Catholic. I was raised by tee-totalling Baptists, we were about as much fun as a routine colonoscopy.

Still, I wanted to show my respect.

“Hi, Sean,” said Father Ralph.

Father Ralph agreed to meet me today because he’s a nice guy, and he was willing to answer my questions. My questions today are about Santa. As in Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.

It all started a few days ago, when I wrote a column about Santa. I received a lot of email from children who asked me if Santa was actually real.

One letter from a 10-year-old read, “I don’t believe in Santa.”

And another: “Santa Claus can’t be legit, can he?”

I even received a letter from a Freewill Baptist mother who said I was “an agent of the devil” for promoting belief in Santa Claus. She spelled “Clause” with an E.


But the most touching letter came from a girl named Kayla (age 9), who said she really wants to believe in Santa. Kayla has cystic fibrosis. She’s been struggling with her digestion and her breathing since her infancy. She is Catholic.

“I really want to believe in Santa,” said Kayla. “But I don’t know if one man can deliver all those presents and be everywhere in the world in one night.”

So I called Father Ralph.

The good Father weighed in: “You should tell Kayla that she’s focusing on the wrong things. Saint Nicholas is not about presents, or sleighs, or reindeer. It’s much deeper than that.”

The padre is right. If you want sleighs and Rudolph, just watch “Ernest Saves Christmas.” If you want the non-Hollywood Saint Nick, let’s ask a professional.

“Very little is known about Saint Nicholas,” said the Father. “The earliest testaments of his life were written centuries after his death.”

But there are stories. Many, many stories. Saint Nick was born in the Greek seaport of Patara, Lycia, to extremely wealthy parents. He was a good-doer from his early days.

In one of his earliest stories, Saint Nicholas rescues three poverty-stricken girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping sacks of gold through their bedroom window each night so their father could pay a dowry for them, and marry them to upstanding men.

Another early story tells of Saint Nick saving three innocent soldiers from wrongful execution. There are hundreds more. He was imprisoned for his faith. He was persecuted. He lives on.

“He’s like any saint,” said the priest. “Miracles are attributed to him all the time. I believe he performs miracles every day.”

There are documented occurrences, of course.

There was the coal miners’ miracle in Pennsylvania. In December of 1907, when coal-mine explosions killed thousands of men in the Youghiogheny Valley near Van Meter. Over 3,000 miners died.

It was the worst month in U.S. coal mining history. But some miners were spared. These were Orthodox Greek men who skipped work to celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas.

There was the miracle in late 1950s, in the Middle East. A Muslim woman was told she was unable to bear children by a doctor. A friend suggested she give Christianity a shot. So, against her father’s wishes, the woman walked into a Christian church. The priest told her to ask Saint Nicholas for help. She did. She was pregnant one week later.

In the 1965, in the Soviet Union, a crowded bus was stuck in the snow. It was dire. People were going to die.

There was an old bearded man on the bus who identified himself as “Nick.” He started talking about how much Jesus loved everyone. Nick said if everyone would just believe, their faith would deliver them.

So everyone started praying and weeping and asking God for help. Lo and behold, the bus gained traction and made it to safety. When the bus arrived at its destination, the old man had disappeared. “It was Saint Nicholas,” said one eyewitness.

And the miracles keep coming. There is the miracle recounted by a missionary priest in 1993. He had no money. He was starving to death. His wife was dying from malnutrition. He asked Saint Nicholas for help. The next day, someone donated anonymously the equivalent of $40,000 bucks.

These are just a few of the tales attributed to Saint Nick. There are thousands more. Stories of people receiving miracles. Stories of healings. Stories of people being saved from death.

“So you see, Kayla,” said Father Ralph. “You can believe whatever you want. But the fact is, Saint Nick isn’t just some guy with a beard and a bunch of reindeer. He is a message.”

I asked what that message is.

“The message isn’t some fairy tale,” said Father Ralph. “Saint Nicholas is the Advent message. The message is that God loves you, no matter who the heck you are.”


  1. Leigh Amiot - December 1, 2022 8:42 am

    Yes, He does.
    My name, and yours, is engraved on the palm of His hand. (Isaiah 49:16)

  2. Jim Crump - December 1, 2022 10:52 am

    Perfect Sean. Perfect!

  3. Marilyn Ward Vance - December 1, 2022 11:03 am

    ♫ He calls the stars by name.♫…..and He knows your name, too!

  4. Reid Webster - December 1, 2022 11:56 am

    We’ll done again Sean, and brave to write from Baptist Birmingham.

  5. Becky - December 1, 2022 12:05 pm

    So well done. Simply beautiful!!

  6. Anne Arthur - December 1, 2022 12:21 pm

    And to that all the faithful say, “Amen”.

  7. Susie - December 1, 2022 12:25 pm

    I’m sorry. I don’t believe much in fairytales. But I do believe in positive thinking.

    • Susie - December 1, 2022 12:29 pm

      I also believe positive ACTIONS in helping and bettering ourselves, and not just spouting religious platitudes.

      • Cheryl W. - December 1, 2022 3:23 pm

        Another word for positive thinking is a “religious platitude” called hope. Positive thinking generates gratitude, kindness, and love, which, hopefully, spurs us to positive actions to help and better others. Yes, I believe in the spirit of Christmas that St. Nick helps generate. And I am so grateful for the Reason that is most remembered during the Christmas season. I hope you have a meaningful Christmas season, Susie.
        Thank you Sean, for your words that make us dig deeper in our hearts

  8. David - December 1, 2022 12:49 pm

    He is the “spirit” of
    Christmas! I love this time of year when folks seem to be a little kinder and little more helpful. A Merry Christmas season to all!

  9. Sean O'Neill - December 1, 2022 1:15 pm

    His feast day is celebrated by Catholics on December 6th.

  10. Connie Barnett - December 1, 2022 1:19 pm

    Yes, God loves you. Thank you Sean Dietrich, keep reminding us. We need Him and the goodness He brings to us.

  11. Major Aday - December 1, 2022 1:44 pm

    A TOYS FOR TOTS Merry Christmas to all.
    Semper Fi

  12. Sean of the South: Saint Nick | The Trussville Tribune - December 1, 2022 1:50 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

  13. sjhl7 - December 1, 2022 2:11 pm


  14. Anne Arthur - December 1, 2022 2:48 pm

    Let me add, I am German.
    In Germany, the children shine their shoes until they sparkle on the eve of St. Nikolaus, as the saint is called here. They put the shoes onto the window sill in the hope St. Nikolaus will leave a little gift when he passes during the night. Usually, he leaves some sweets, chocolates or cookies for the kids who behave and are kind. But he might also leave a small whip (a stick from a tree) for those who have been naughty or unkind at times. In the morning of December 6th, St Nikolaus Day, there is usually lots of joy and happiness in the home when all share the little goodies he has left in the shoes.
    St Nikolaus is a reminder that we have to be kind and care for each other.

  15. elizabethroosje - December 1, 2022 3:36 pm

    I love St Nicholas! I was chrismated (The way one joins the Orthodox Church when already baptized ) 18 years ago at a Church dedicated to st Nicholas! He always helps us! Today Thursday is his day every day of the week AND next Tuesday December 6 ( and December 19th for us in the Julian calendar) is his day! When I was a poor student I got a bursary ( ie free money) on his day and I had not even applied for it! An Abbess at a Greek Monastery told me to ask St Nicholas for a Husband. I did. Been happily married 10 years! St Nicholas loves Christ and so helps us….

  16. Stacey Wallace - December 1, 2022 3:52 pm

    Father Ralph is correct. God loves us all and will never leave us. Thanks, Sean. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.

  17. Melissa Gleneck - December 1, 2022 3:59 pm

    I love this….God loves us through thick and thin. Indeed and attribute to emulate!

  18. Karen Godbey - December 1, 2022 4:06 pm


    As you already know, … no matter what you say, there are others who believe the opposite. If we stopped talking, (or writing), where would we be? We would definitely not be fulfilling God’s Great Commission.

    Thank you for writing, for talking, and for following your heart in a world that is full of Freedom of Speech deniers. If we stop to think who we may offend with our comments, then we are not doing what we are called to do. Our thoughts are just as important as theirs. Why do they get to speak their thoughts and we are banned from doing so?

    Thank you for sharing the good that our world needs to hear. Your humor and style provide it in a way that is gentle and warm. Thank you for finding your mission and for doing it in the face of our era’s Freedom of Speech deniers.

    Sean, on those days that you push to meet your deadline and question your column’s value, … know this: those feelings are a spiritual attack from the leader of “the other side”.

    I’ve found your thoughts to be inspired and timely. Even if for just a handful of readers, those very columns that you struggle to deliver are probably going to be exactly what some readers need to see. That struggle may actually be a spiritual one.

    God uses each of us in various ways. Sometimes the grumblings and lashing out from others simply confirms the value of our words.

    God Bless you, and please keep up the good work.

  19. Trudy Johnson - December 1, 2022 4:11 pm

    Even Baptists.

  20. Steve McCaleb - December 1, 2022 4:16 pm

    Somewhere in the Book (I’m paraphrasing) it says something about a man who sees and believes is blessed but the man who does NOT see yet still believes is more blessed. Please count me among the latter. May the Lord bless and keep us all.

    • Gigi - December 2, 2022 1:34 am

      @SteveMcCaleb ~ you’re correct. John 20:29 is what you’re quoting.

  21. Gordon - December 1, 2022 4:53 pm

    Amen and amen to your last sentence. God is

  22. Tommy - December 1, 2022 5:22 pm

    Unable to bear children by a doctor? What about by her husband?

  23. Bill Woodward - December 1, 2022 5:34 pm

    Thank you for the beautiful take on St. Nicholas . He has been a big part of our families lives since I was a child .

  24. conkledavid - December 1, 2022 5:36 pm

    Thanks . Your priest nailed it .

  25. Jan - December 1, 2022 5:52 pm

    The priest is right, of course.

    However for a short answer, I remember my Dad’s words. My oldest brother came home from school and had heard those nasty rumors regarding Santa. Namely he was not real and it was the parents. As the oldest child, he did not hear this until he started school. My Dad sat him on his knee and said…Son, there is a lot I do not know. However, based on my experience, as long as I believed Santa came to see me. When you stop believing, he might not visit your house. Well into his adult years, my brother would call home prior to Christmas and say, “Dad, I still believe”.

  26. Carol Pilmer - December 1, 2022 6:08 pm

    Thank You, Sean, Thank You, Father Ralph, Thank You, St. Nick

  27. MAM - December 1, 2022 8:07 pm

    St. Nicholas’s feast day announces, during Advent, the coming birthday of Jesus, the reason for the season.

  28. Sue - December 1, 2022 9:45 pm


  29. Gigi - December 2, 2022 12:13 am

    I believe in coincidences, only God performs miracles. And yes, God does love you.
    John 3:16

  30. Gigi - December 2, 2022 12:20 am

    I believe in coincidences, only God performs miracles. And yes, God does love everyone. John 3:16

  31. Page Leftwich - December 2, 2022 1:55 am


  32. Tommy Artmann - December 2, 2022 3:10 pm


  33. George Robert Leach - December 3, 2022 4:49 am

    This is a much better story than most I’ve heard. Thank you.

  34. Flory - December 7, 2022 5:18 pm

    You’ve had some great columns. I love your one on St. Nick best of all. God bless you.


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