Monday, 28 November 2016

St. Nicholas Day - December 6th or December 19th

St. Nicholas Day

The legendary figure of St. Nicholas is derived from Nicholas of Myra who officiated as a bishop in 4th century Greece. During his lifetime he developed a reputation for gift-giving by putting coins in other people's shoes, which accounts for many of today's Christmas traditions that involve leaving gifts in shoes or boots.

Having inspired both the figure of the North American Santa Claus and the British Father Christmas, St. Nicholas has in some countries been more recently joined on his visits to children's homes by an evil companion who punishes the naughty ones: in Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and northern Italy, this personification of evil is called Krampus, in Germany Knecht Ruprecht, and in the Netherlands Zwarte Piet.

Why Celebrate St. Nicholas Day?

December 6 or December 19 on the Julian Calendar

St. Nicholas, a man of faith who lived his life in devotion to Christ

• To focus on giving more than receiving: St. Nicholas cared for the needy

• To emphasize small treats and family fun: St. Nicholas loved children

• To provide a bit of special festivity early in the waiting weeks of Advent: St. Nicholas points to Jesus, the heart of Christmas

• To offer a spiritual dimension to gift giving

• To tell the story of a Christian saint, whose model life inspires compassion and charity

• To honor St. Nicholas honors the Christ Child who selflessly gave the greatest gift of all—himself

St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6, is one of the highlights of the Advent season. It is on this eve that our children hang their stockings. From babyhood they learn to love the kind bishop with his mitre, staff and bag of gifts--whose name has become parodied as "Santa Claus" and whose memory is tarnished by commercialism.

In addition to the toys received on this feast, the Christ-Child and His angels bring other gifts on Christmas Eve; and the Magi a few more on Epiphany.

Placing less exclusive emphasis on December 25 as the day of presents and also curtailing its gifts somewhat makes it easier to place more emphasis on the religious aspects of that great holy day. 

Do other children think ours are queer? Not at all. If anything, they are a bit envious of children who receive Yule gifts so early and who enjoy such a happy feast as our traditional St. Nicholas Day party. Having an early gift day also makes it possible for the children to give some of these gifts as Christmas presents to other less fortunate children.

Treats of the St. Nicholas party are the exchange of gifts, genuine Dutch cookies and Bishopwyn (bishop's wine). For children the wine is grape juice. But the grownups who face the high December winds along the Hudson River to pick up their children at our house always welcome the mulled Bishopwyn. Its recipe is from our favorite cook book, "Cooking for Christ" by Florence Berger.

                      1 bottle of Claret        6 cloves       4 inches stick cinnamon

Break cinnamon into small pieces. Simmer wine and spices for about five minutes. Strain wine. Serve hot.

The Speculatius, a spice cookie from the Netherlands
The Speculatius, a spice cookie from the Netherlands, like all of Mrs. Berger's recipes, is foolproof.

1 cup butter                       4 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup lard                          1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups brown sugar           1/2 tsp. cloves 
1/2 cup sour cream          4-1/2 cups sifted                                                              flour
1/2 tsp. soda                      1/2 cup chopped                                                               nuts

Cream the butter, lard and sugar. Add sour cream alternately with sifted dry ingredients. Stir in the nuts. Knead the dough into rolls. Wrap the rolls in wax paper and chill them in the refrigerator overnight. Roll the dough very thin and cut into shapes. Bake in moderate oven (375 degrees) for 10 to 15 minutes.

The dough may be cut into St. Nicholas shapes, or into the shape of birds, fish or animals. We also like to cut out stocking shapes and ice them in honor of St. Nicholas, patron of school boys.

During the party we light the Advent wreath candle, and the children sing Advent hymns. All classes at Corpus Christi School have wreaths, but some of the children do not have them at home. We have found that parents, enjoying their Bishopwyn, have become interested in the wreath and have integrated the Advent program of school and home as a result of the St. Nicholas Day party.

Excerpt taken from FAMILY ADVENT CUSTOMS by Helen McLoughlin