Welcome to Myra, in the year 310 AD. The Roman persecutions against Christians ended only just recently, and a young priest named Nicholas is visiting his Jewish friend Simon in the city’s synagogue. What happens if Simon embraces the Christian faith? How will the other Jews react when he leaves? What will the Gentile Christians say when Simon insists on staying Jewish and celebrating Hanukka, the Festival of Lights? Simon is a widower with three daughters – how can Nicholas give him charity to keep the girls safe, without Simon seeing who it was from? Perhaps through the chimney? And where did that red-nosed deer come from?
“How St. Nicholas Stole Hanukkah” is a short story of about 25-30 pages (the layout isn’t done yet), and it just might be the most Jewish Christmas story you’ve ever read. It is a work of historical fiction, with more fiction than history. Some legends about St. Nick have been baked into the narrative, but most of the story is entirely made up.
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I want to emphasize that this is not a story for small children. Especially not children who believe in Santa Claus.
Here is an excerpt:
Nicholas was walking along the street in Myra, wearing his favorite red warm coat. His long beard was completely gray now. It was chilly, and the wind howled between the rickety houses. He was carrying a package of food for one of the church members who was poor and often couldn’t afford food. He eyed the unstable houses along the street. Somewhere in this questionable neighborhood, Simon lived with his daughters.
The warm light of Hanukkah lights burned in the windows of some houses he passed. The Jews were celebrating the festival of lights. He felt a sting of jealousy as he walked there in his long gray beard and red coat. Why didn’t the Christians have any festival of lights at this dark time of the year?
He arrived to the home of the family and knocked on the door. A little child opened and looked up at him. Inside the house, it was dark except for a flickering light from the fireplace.
“Is your mom or dad home?” he asked with a smile. The little boy pointed into the house. The mother was lying on a bed further in, nursing a newborn baby. Another three kids were playing on the floor. The mother smiled at him.
“Thank you so much. It’s really a great help. You can leave the food on the doorstep. Say thanks to the church elders and the bishop for all the help.”
Nicholas left the pot with porridge on the doorstep. It would be inappropriate to enter the home of a woman when her husband wasn’t home. The kids whisked it in quickly.
It was on the way back that he heard it. From a window where the Hanukkah lights were shining, he heard Simon’s voice.
“You can’t be serious, Demetrios.”
“I am very serious. Look, it’s your own fault for leaving the Torah of Moses. If you hadn’t done that, you would still be wealthy. Now you have no choice. You made yourself poor, take the consequences. You know that my offer is the best you will ever get. The alternative will be much worse.”
Nicholas tried to hide and listen. He hoped his red coat wouldn’t be visible.
“I think there’s someone on the street, let’s close the window,” Demetrios said, and closed the window shutter. Now only muffled sound came from the inside.
Time to think quickly. He had to know what this was about. Simon was in trouble. He found a rickety ladder laying on the side of the house and raised it up against the roof and hurried up. It was biting cold, and his frozen hands had trouble gripping the steps, but he got up. Once up on the roof, he crawled to the chimney and peeked down. Everything they said came up through the chimney. He could hear every word now.