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The Saint Nicholas Secret by Dennis Eugene Engleman

The Saint Nicholas Secret

by Dennis Eugene Engleman

108 pages
A story of childhood faith reborn in the heart of a father.

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Category: Family
About the Book

Children of 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,
Please bring me something nice. I have tried to be good. I love you.
Your friend,
Dennis Engleman
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.'

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

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.



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