In America we are familiar with an image of Santa Claus in a red and white suit, a round belly, white bear, a twinkle in his eye and rosy cheeks. But, for many of us who grew up with family members that were in raised in other countries Santa Claus has has a different image.
On December 5 or 6th is St. Nicholas Day.
St. Nicholas was born during 3rd Century in the village of Patara, which at the time was part of Greece. It is now part of southern coast of Turkey. St. Nicholas was born to wealthy parents, who had raised him to be a devout Christian. This was during a time when the Roman Emperor Diocletian still ruthless persecuted and killed Christians. St. Nicholas lost his parents due an epidemic leaving St. Nicholas with a large inheritances.
Obeying one of Jesus's teachings, "sell what you have and give the money to the poor," Nicholas gave his entire inheritance to assisting to the needy, the sick and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God.
One of my favorite St. Nicholas stories is the story about a poor man with three daughters.
In those days a young woman's father had to offer future husbands a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better chances of finding a good husband. (Yes, you may giggle and snort here). The poor father could not provide a dowry for his three daughters and they were destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three separate occasions , a bag of gold appeared in the home. These bags of gold provided the much needed dowries. It is said that these bags of gold had been thrown through an open window and had landed into stockings hanging by the fire. Some also say these bags of gold landed in shoes left out to dry.
This led to the custom of children leaving stockings or putting out shoes, to await eagerly for their gifts from St Nicolas.
St. Nicholas is the patron saint and protector of children, sailors and the poor. His story is very similar to St. Martin of Tours whose feast day is celebrated in November. The theme remains the same. These selfless acts are examples of the meaning of Advent.
A family tradition to be made on St. Nicholas Feast Day......
Pepernoten (Dutch Peppernuts)
In Holland St. Nicholas visits the children on December 5 accompanied by his faithful helper "Black Peter." He, or a black gloved hand, distributes the peppernoten to the children by throwing them through the door before the arrival of St. Nicholas.
2½ cups (300 g) flour
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (75 g) brown sugar
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves
pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon anise seeds optional
Knead all ingredients into a soft ball. Butter two baking sheets. Form about 50 marble-sized balls. Place them on the two sheets, so that they are the same distance from each other. Flatten each ball slightly.
Bake at 350º F. (175º C) 20 minutes or until done. The cookies will be very hard, but they will get softer as they get older.
Makes about 50 peppernuts.
3 lbs. round steak, cut into six piecesPound meat and rub each piece with salt and pepper. Heat butter or bacon drippings in skillet until very hot. Brown meat thoroughly on both sides. Shortly before meat is done, add onions, and fry lightly, but not browned. Place meat in a covered baking dish. To drippings and onions in skillet add water, vinegar, mustard, bay leaf, cloves, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and pour over meat. Cover meat and simmer very gently for 2–3 hours at 350º until very tender. Turn meat every half-hour.
Salt and pepper
½ cup butter or bacon drippings
3 medium onions, sliced
1 cup water
3 tablespoons vinegar
½ tablespoon mustard
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon whole cloves
From Festive Recipes and Festival Menus by Sula Benet, Abelard-Schuman, 1970, p. 86.