Friday, December 19, 2014

A Ballad of Santa Claus
by Henry van Dyke

Among the earliest saints of old, 
before the first Hegira,
I find the one whose name we hold, 
St. Nicholas of Myra:

The best-beloved name, I guess, 
in sacred nomenclature  ––
The patron-saint of helpfulness, 
and friendship, and good-nature.

A bishop and a preacher too, 
 a famous theologian,
He stood against the Arian crew, 
 and fought them like a Trojan:

But when a poor man told his need 
 and begged an alms in trouble,
He never asked about his creed, 
but quickly gave him double.

Three pretty maidens, so they say, 
were longing to be married;
But they were paupers, lack-a-day, 
and so the suitors tarried.

St. Nicholas gave each maid a purse 
of golden ducats chinking,
And then, for better or for worse, 
they wedded quick as winking.

Once, as he sailed, a storm arose; 
wild waves the ship surrounded;
The sailors wept and tore their clothes, 
 and shrieked “We'll all be drownded!”

St. Nicholas never turned a hair; 
serenely shone his halo;
He simply said a little prayer, 
and all the billows lay low.

The wicked keeper of an inn 
 had three small urchins taken,
And cut them up in a pickle-bin, 
and salted them for bacon.

St. Nicholas came and picked them out, 
and put their limbs together, ––
They lived, they leaped, they gave a shout, 
“St. Nicholas forever!”

And thus it came to pass, you know, 
that maids without a nickel,
And sailor-lads when tempest blow, 
and children in a pickle,

And every man that's fatherly, 
and every kindly matron,
In choosing saints would all agree 
to call St. Nicholas patron.

He comes again at Christmas-time 
and stirs us up to giving;
He rings the merry bells that chime 
good-will to all the living;

He blesses every friendly deed 
and every free donation;
He sows the secret, golden seed 
of love through all creation.

Our fathers drank to Santa Claus, 
 the sixth of each December,
And still we keep his feast, 
because his virtues we remember.

Among the saintly ranks he stood, 
with smiling human features,
And said, “Be good! But not too good 
to love your fellow-creatures!”
~ Henry van Dyke (1852-1933) 

Henry van Dyke was born on November 10, 1852 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in the United States. He graduated from Princeton University in 1873 and from Princeton Theological Seminary, 1877 and served as a professor of English literature at Princeton between 1899 and 1923.

Van Dyke chaired the committee that wrote the first Presbyterian printed liturgy, The Book of Common Worship of 1906. In 1908–09 Dr. van Dyke was an American lecturer at the University of Paris. By appointment of President Wilson, a friend and former classmate of van Dyke, he became Minister to the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1913. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received many other honors. Van Dyke was an "ardent foe of the annexation of the Philippines, [and] told his congregation in 1898, 'If we enter the course of foreign conquest, the day is not far distant when we must spend in annual preparation for wars more than the $180,000,000 that we now spend every year in the education of our children for peace.'"

Among his popular writings are the two Christmas stories, The Other Wise Man (1896) and The First Christmas Tree (1897). Various religious themes of his work are also expressed in his poetry, hymns and the essays collected in Little Rivers (1895) and Fisherman’s Luck (1899). He wrote the lyrics to the popular hymn, "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" (1907), sung to the tune of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy"....

Learn more about Henry van Dyke at


  1. I love the work of Henry Van Dyke!

    In the homeschool group, we frequently read his works.

  2. hegira - Muhammad's departure from Mecca to Medina in AD 622, prompted by the opposition of the merchants of Mecca and marking the consolidation of the first Muslim community.

  3. If St. Nicholas is the personification of a "jolly good fellow", I guess it should be obvious that "Old Nick" would be the opposite.

    Strange coincidence of similar names, or what?

  4. A captious Freudian Santa seduced, indoctrinated and warped by Marxism's dreary Dogma!


  5. One look at the genial countenance of Henry van Dyke, AOW, tells us he must be the product of a wholesome, salubrious background before the country was tainted by the toxic incursions of Freudian Psychology, Cultural Marxism, Hollywood, and Rock 'n Roll.

    Not a true poetic genius, perhaps, but a fine man and most engaging literary figure nonetheless.

    I jus discovered him a few days ago, when doing a little research to find something substantive to add to your article on the Evolution of Santa.

  6. Actually, I found it a rather clever allusion to the recent film "Interstellar". But maybe you had to "be there". ;)

  7. We never see handsome, clear-eyed, dignified, well-groomed men of integrity who radiate gentle wisdom, benevolence and trustworthiness like Mr. van Dyke anymore, do we, FT?

    Has the human race lost that capacity?

    Hope you had a nice Christmas, FT? Best wishes for the coming year.

    Helen Highwater



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