A Tribute To Saint Nicholas

A Tribute To Saint Nicholas

In Memory of Charles H. “Bud” Berge, the official St. Nicholas of Christkindlmarkt

When Christmastime comes around each year, I think back to my fond childhood memories. Gathering with my family under the Christmas tree sharing presents. Baking homemade cookies with my mother in the kitchen. Watching Rankin/Bass cartoons on television. But the one that stands out among them all is my annual visit with St. Nick. St. Nick could be at the local mall, a firehouse, heck, one year he actually came to visit at our house. (To this day I still don’t know how my parents pulled that off.)

Here in the Lehigh Valley, it is a tradition to visit with St. Nicholas at Bethlehem’s Christkindlmarkt. Charles H. “Bud” Berge portrayed him for 22 years. Sadly, Bud Berge passed away on July 28 of this year. This article is dedicated to him, his family, and the countless number of people whose lives he touched.

Bud brought joy to many and received it as well.

Bethlehem native Bud Berge was St. Nicholas for Christkindlmarkt since its founding. He wasn’t just someone who played St. Nick. He was St. Nick, and in many ways, he was Christkindmarkt. Bud had a special way of putting every child who visited him at ease. He would welcome guests with a wave and a warm smile. By the end of their visit, they were smiling, laughing and sharing all of their holiday wishes with him. “It amazed me how Bud always knew and remembered all of those children that came to see him year after year. He literally met thousands of children over two-plus decades. For my wife and I, it always was special when we brought our daughter Aine, who was an infant at the time, to see him. For the following eight years, she looked forward to seeing him year in and year out. Bud was an incredibly kind, compassionate, and caring person,” says Mark Demko of ArtsQuest.

Donna told me of the numerous stories from the families who came to visit Bud over the years. Children would return year after year, even if they were in high school or college. People of all ages – from a 4-month old infant – to a 104-year-old man from Massachusetts – flocked to see Bud.

He had a gift of speaking with those with special needs. There was a woman who had cancer and Bud prayed for her. The next year she came and the cancer was in remission. She was widowed and ask St. Nick for a husband. She came back the following year and was engaged. The next year they were married. Bud helped coordinate marriage proposals. There was a bridal party who came for their photo with St. Nicholas. The bride and groom came back year after year. Groups of school children would come for their class photo with Bud. “He touched the loves of so many as St. Nicholas. He was genuine, and could see the gifts in others. He took his time with the children no matter how many were in line, and made them all feel special. Bud took an interest in their lives, talents, activities. He smiled so nicely for each photo. He truly loved them all.”

Along with St. Nicholas, Bud Berge was known for being an ambassador to the Lehigh Valley, specifically Bethlehem. He served as floor coordinator at the DaVinci Science Center. Bud worked with First Night, the Advent Breakfast, and the Citizens Christmas City Committee. He portrayed Asa Packer for a City of Bethlehem event. Bud also was George Washington for Bethlehem’s 250th Anniversary. He coordinated all of the groups for Bethlehem Sings. Bud was very active in his church, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bethlehem Township. “He was a man of strong faith who lead a true Christian life. His love of God shone through in all that he did. His entire life was a ministry. My favorite word is JOY… to Bud, that meant Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last,” Donna Berge says.

Bud’s roles it seems were never ending. He was very much a family man. Bud was a loving husband to Donna for almost 35 years. He was a father to a son and three daughters. He was a grandfather of five. He was a brother. At one time he was a teacher, sports coach, sports radio announcer, counselor, and a member of the United States Army Reserve.

One of Bud’s last wishes was to hear from the many people who had their photo taken with him over the years. Hundreds of people sent him photos and letters, or made phone calls. Dan’s Camera City and the blog Lehigh Valley With Love took several photos from St. Nicholas fans and published a photo book, which was presented to Bud. “He received a call from Mike Metheny, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, his favorite baseball team, which he delighted in. Bud also got a St. Louis Cardinals baseball autographed by a little girl from our congregation. He loved the visits from those who visited Christkindlmarkt. He would say the more, the merrier,” says Donna.

In the words of Donna Berge, “Bud brought joy to many and received it as well. He was a caring and giving person with a pure love of people. Bud embodied the very spirit of
St. Nicholas.”

This year at Christkindlmarkt, many will be remembering Bud Berge. ArtsQuest will be honoring his many years of St. Nicholas service. Christkindlmarkt is open Friday through Sunday, November 20-22 and 27-29. It is open Thursday through Sunday, December 3-6, 10-13, and 17-20.

Photos by Mark Demko & David Happel

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