I love the Feast of Saint Nicholas because he is the patron saint of children — I have been putting my kids under the protection of his prayers for half my life, and I do believe his prayers have enormously helped a severely autistic little boy named Nicholas, who has made great strides these past few years, under the Bishop of Myra’s patronage.
A few years ago, as we were putting up on Christmas tree on St. Nicholas Day (it was different when I didn’t work full time. By now the shopping was done, the cards were out…) I decided the tree would hold only our St. Nicholas and Santa ornaments. I think it was the prettiest tree we ever put together.
Read about the real Saint Nicholas. I don’t mind his legendary and commercial equivalent. So few people realize that when they say Santa Claus, they’re calling out “Saint ‘cholas” that I believe it’s probably an ultimate good.
But this day never comes without my remembrance of “Uncle Charlie”, a family friend who once appeared on our doorstep, decked out in all of Santa’s raiment and tripping in his boots only slightly. He had apparently been Santa for a party at the local soup kitchen (or the local bar; this was never clear to me) and — just a trifle in his cups — had decided during his walk home that he would stop the house of his friends and give all the kids “a treat.” And if the friends wanted to toast the season with him, all the better.
By the time “Uncle Charlie” reached our house, he had toasted the season well into the next decade, and as he sat in the kitchen, his shirt unbuttoned against the heat, a wee dram in his big paw, he clucked at the few children to be found in our house and then, grinning from ear-to-ear, said, “I hate ye’s all!”
We didn’t take it personally. My family, their circle of friends, they were always fans of self-denigrating irony. The joke, of course, was that Santa Claus could never hate anyone, but if he could, he’d hate us all.
Of course, there is a very thin line between hate and love.
But in truth, that was some of the merriest hate I’d ever encountered. And when “Uncle Charlie” buttoned up his Santa tunic to finally go home — or to wherever the next drop would do him — he made those bustling old man sounds and breathed his whiskey on us (not yet stale, it was a good, strong smell) and said, “ah, I love ye’s, all! Merry Christmas to ye’s.”
I miss that generation — the folks who said, “ye’s” for “all of you” (in Brooklyn, it became “youse”) and who would go on an occasional toot with the understanding that it was not an everyday thing, and no indicator of a breakdown of the social order, but just a gentle tippling among friends, and a buzz alighted, and meant to bring a good sleep. That was the generation that went through the depression, and fought the second World War, and then went on to raise a generation that could do nothing but deconstruct, and without even an appreciation of the fact that, in reality, the word itself, “deconstruct” is an oxymoron and an illusion.
Unlike the Word.
Happy Saint Nicholas Day, everyone! I hate ye’s all!