St. Nicolas arrives in a small village in France

This holiday season got me thinking back to a few years ago when we lived in France.  Thought you might enjoy some of those holiday experiences…

23 December 2002

You are not going to believe this but I saw St. Nicholas on Saturday. No, I am not talking about that fat fellow in the
red suit that Coca Cola made famous in the 1930’s to promote their products. I am talking about THE St. Nicholas.

Earlier in the week we read in the paper that if we went to St. Pierre, the ancient stone church in the center of Senlis
at 3:30 there would be a parade. We bundled up in our warmest clothes because winter arrived this week and the
temperature was hovering around freezing. Up the hill we chugged to see the parade.

At first there weren’t many children or parents, but the moment we saw a man with an orangish pointy hat step out of
the door lots of people suddenly appeared. The man everybody was excited to see looked strangely like a younger version of the pope, only with a long white beard.

He had on an orange tunic over white clothing. The trim of the tunic was elaborately embroidered in yellow and red. His tall papal looking hat was the same color. His walking stick added to his holy look. He kissed many of the children on their foreheads. Then he turned to walk down the street.

All of us fell in behind him. Cat was nervous about approaching him. She’s always been scared to death of the US
Santa. Once St. Nick started handing out little candies she seemed to relax. Sometimes he would turn around and throw
the candies to the crowd behind him. The story goes that he only gives the candy to “good boys and girls”.

We followed him all around the town. Watching him leading the parade made me think of when I was a kid. The day after Thanksgiving my mom would take us up to Northern Lights Shopping Center in Columbus and we would patiently wait with hundreds of other families. At some point a little dot would appear in the sky and we knew that Santa was going to finally arrive in a helicopter. My mom was always as excited as us kids.

I was also thinking about how much sense “St. Nicholas” meant rather then the Coca Cola Santa. Here was a religious
figure marching around town blessing the children. What is it that the Coca Cola Santa stands for anyway? I was unclear
about this my whole life.

At the end of the parade I was feeling how hopeful the world suddenly seemed to me. St. Nicholas WAS real and spreading blessings to all of the children he touched. I guess there once was a St. Nicholas who made a difference in people’s lives. Old St. Nick gave what he had to help people who couldn’t help themselves. Even though that was a long time ago somehow we seem to need that example more then ever today.

Every year at Christmas Jay asks me what I want. I say, “World peace”. He says that isn’t in his power. Then I say,
“How about enough food for everybody in the world?”. Then he gets this look of “Come on and help me out here.”.

This year we will go with our French friends to the Catholic Church in Senlis on Christmas Eve, even though we aren’t
Catholic. We will listen respectfully. We will have dinner afterwards and exchange gifts with the adults. Then we will
wait for Santa to arrive while we sleep. This is how the French celebrate Christmas.

Cat will wake us all up at 5:00 on Christmas morning to open the presents that Santa brought. We will wait for more
friends to arrive. We will cook together, clean up the dishes and play some kind of a game.

When everyone goes home and it is quiet again I will remember what I wanted every Christmas since I can remember.
I will try to imagine what it would be like to have world peace or everyone to have enough to eat…. I hope I will
remember that peace begins with me…only me. I have done all I can do this year for peace on earth.

And I will remember how I felt so hopeful as I watched the Senlis St. Nicholas walk past the lovely evergreen
decorations with their bright gold bows. I was sure I heard him say (in French so I translate) “Merry Christmas to all
and to all…peace on earth.”



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Jay and Annie Warmke run a sustainability center in southern Ohio that features an Earthship (a passive solar home made of tires and garbage), straw bale buildings, various critters and more. Find out all about it at

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