Wednesday, December 6, 2006

St. Nicholas's Day, December 6th

St. Nicholas's Day

Most Americans know about St. Nicholas because of the popular song "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" which tells of a man more like our comercialized American "Santa Claus" than the quietly kind, European, version of the legend of the man who brings needy, but generous children gifts.

As such, we Americans loose a bit of the charm of this day. After we have done a little research on our own to study up on the life of St. Nick, are we able to separate Santa Claus from Saint Nicolas, and properly celebrate a Day of St. Nicholas, and acknowledge his influence on the legend of Santa Claus.

St. Nicholas's Day celebrates the memory of a man who know during his time for being kind and generous. St. Nicholas was a bishop of the city of Myra in the 4th century. It is often told that Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering, that he dedicated his life to serving God.

St. Nicholas brings gifts to everyone who leaves their shoes by the front door, filled with hay and treats for his horse. He replaces a kindness with a kindness. St. Nicholas also has a special relationship special groups of people as a guardian of virgins, of children, and of sailors. He even came to be regarded as the patron of robbers. Sort of in a Robin Hoody way. So, if you are of one of these groups, you especially will want to take some time to honor St. Nicholas today.

Saint Nicholas's Day,

December 6th, is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas' Day is celebrated with the sharing of candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. Simple gift-giving in early Advent helps preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child. (St, Nicholas Center)

Ways to celebrate St. Nicholas are to prepare a feast in honor of him. If you are not up for cooking a feast in the middle of a workweek, then make some cookies. Speculaas are traditional for St. Nicholas's Day
Speculaas cookies (From Women for Faith)
1 Cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, at room temperature
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 eggs
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Stir in the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. Stir in the lemon rind.

Sift the spices and salt with the flour and baking powder, and stir gradually into the butter mixture. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight. (in the freezer for about 20 minutes.)

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch, or for larger figures to about 1/4 inch. Cut out with cookie cutters, or trace around a heavy paper pattern with a sharp knife. This dough can also be used with a cookie mold, or can be molded by hand.

Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. If you like you cookies soft, remove them from the oven when they are just set -- the longer the baking time, the crisper the cookie.

Yield:: approximately 3 dozen cookies or fewer large figures.
And don't forget, these cookies are supposed to be shared, or you will not have much of the spirit of St. Nicholas with you to help you celebrate!

If baking isn't your things, you can donate to programs that assist families during the holidays. Every mall will have a giving tree; shelters will always need food, and hygiene product donations. Any public agency can find some way for volunteers to make a difference, and mostly volunteer opportunities can be done quickly. Just think, it will only take an hour or two to honor St. Nicholas today!

But, don't forget to leave the hay in your shoes for St. Nicholas's horse, or you might miss all the fun!

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