St. Nick talks to students about the real reason for the season
By Katherine Long
Sun associate editor
Ting-ting-ting. A roomful of little heads turned, trying to make out the noise.
“Do you hear some bells?” Immaculate Conception School (IC) principal Sally Lisi asked.
The jingling grew louder and then —
“HO, HO, HO!”
The assembled student body of Cathedral Academy at Pompei (CAP) erupted into cheers and excited chatter as Santa Claus entered the gym, ringing sleigh bells (later revealed to be Rudolph’s) and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
Jolly old St. Nick made a surprise appearance in two Syracuse Catholic schools Dec. 13 for an important purpose: to talk to the young students of CAP and IC about the true meaning of Christmas.
Kim Sheridan, development director for IC, explained that she had originally wanted Santa to come to IC as a guest at the school’s assembly. IC holds a monthly assembly during its car-raffle fundraiser season [see sidebar], and Sheridan tries to have a special guest attend each one. Since this year’s raffle is being held around Christmas, she thought a visit from Santa would be fitting. But Lisi wanted to ensure the right message was sent to the students.
“When I brought the idea of Santa to her, she wanted to incorporate one of her favorite books, A Special Place for Santa,” Sheridan said.
In the children’s story, Santa returns to his origin as St. Nicholas, explaining his history as a servant of God and how he came to be associated with Christmas and gift-giving.
“It’s a beautiful story that explains Santa’s role in Christmas,” Lisi said. “It shows him honoring Jesus and kneeling down before the manger. I feel it’s an important concept for us to explain to the students.”
Sheridan discussed the idea with Santa, who was happy to oblige. He was also happy to expand his visit to include a stop at CAP.
Santa started his day there, fielding some questions from the students about his age (“I’m ancient”), Mrs. Claus’ whereabouts (North Pole) and how he arrived (Blitzen brought him in the little, “everyday” sleigh). He then settled in to read them the book.
“I came to visit today so that we can think about the meaning of Christmas and how Santa fits into that. Let me tell you a story about Santa and my relationship with Jesus,” he said.
Paraphrasing from A Special Place for Santa, Santa told the kids about an experience he had a few Christmases ago, when he overheard (because Santa’s always listening!) two women shopping for presents. They were discussing how Santa was beginning to take over the holiday and make people forget about Christmas’ real significance: Jesus’ birthday.
“I heard them and it made me sad,” Santa said. “So on my last stop that year, like I always do, very early in the morning, I stopped into one of my favorite churches. I sat in the pew in the back and I thought about what was happening.”
Suddenly, Santa said, God started speaking to him, reminding St. Nicholas of all the good things he’d done in his life and beyond, especially as Bishop of Myra and as the generous patron of children, to spread the true Christmas spirit. Santa was cheered by this pep talk and was able to kneel before the creche and present the baby Jesus with the same magical present he gives Him every year: a small box containing all the lists, letters, hopes and wishes sent to Santa by the children of the world.
“So thank you for sharing yours with me, and know that I share them with Jesus,” Santa told the students. “And know that Santa and Jesus and God are all friends.”
Before heading off for a repeat performance at IC, Santa left two copies of the book for the CAP library. Each student was also given a prayer card and an ornament depicting Santa kneeling before the baby Jesus to remind them that Santa honors Him on His birthday. IC elves Michael Catalano, 12; Bridget Fallon, 11; Michael Reeve, 11; and Ellie Sommers, 11, distributed the gifts on Santa’s behalf.
Santa and his story were a hit with the CAP kids. Five-year-old Nwanje Rodman said the visit was fun and Angar Amal, 5, liked the story a lot. Kiyana Burrell, 5, summed it all up: “St. Nicholas did very good.”
Sister Helen Ann Charlebois, IHM, principal of CAP, was also pleased with the visit and with Santa’s message.
“We’ve been trying to stress [to the students] that gifting means reaching out, not getting, and that the greatest gift is Jesus,” she said.