Monday, December 6, 2010

St. Nicholas Day

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas believed to have given rise to the character we know best in the US as Santa Claus.  According to the website:  St. Nicholas Center -- The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.  He is still considered the patron saint of sailors.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th.
Many countries celebrate the memory of St. Nicholas on his feast day. In Poland he is depicted as descending from Heaven with an angel helper, he travels on foot or in a sleigh pulled by a white horse as he visits homes in the countryside.  St. Nicholas rebukes or praises, as appropriate, before distributing holy pictures, red apples or oranges, and pierniki, (saint cookies made with honey and spices).  In Holland children set their wooden shoes out when he became known for special gifts to children.  The traditional gifts in Holland were sweets, chocolate and gold coins.  But any small gift that is a symbolic of giving to others is perfect as a celebration.  Simple gifts which brought hope were the most common in celebration of St. Nicholas. Try this wonderful and simple recipe which you can give away!
Saint Nicholas Gingerbread

This unusual light gingerbread is sweetened with maple syrup, rather than molasses. Make junior or mini loaves to give away on St. Nicholas Day!

1 cup maple syrup
1 cup sour cream
1 egg, slightly beaten
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons butter, melted
Sweetened whipped cream for topping
Blend maple syrup, sour cream and beaten egg with a whisk or spoon. Sift dry ingredients together and stir into liquid mixture, beating well. Add melted butter and mix thoroughly. Grease and flour a loaf pan (9x5x3-inches) and bake at 350º for 35-45 minutes (junior loaves, 7 3/8x3 5/8x2¼, 35-40 minutes; mini loaves, 4½x2½x1½, 25-30 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm, topped with sweetened whipped cream. Makes 8 servings (one large loaf, two junior loaves, 6 minis).

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