Saint Nicholas has been for hundreds of years a popular saint in the East and in the West, greatly famed as a worker of miracles. There are many charming legends concerning him.
One tells of an occasion in heaven when all the saints came together to talk and to drink a little wine. Saint Basil filled the golden cups from the golden jug, and everyone was deep in conversation when it was noticed that Saint Nicholas was nodding. One of the blessed nudged him until he awoke, and asked why he was slumbering in such good company.
“Well, you see,” he told them, “the enemy has raised a fearful storm in the Aegean. My body was dozing perhaps, but my spirit was bringing the ships safe to shore.”
Saint Nicholas is the saint of mariners and also of bankers, pawnbrokers, scholars, and thieves! But he is especially the saint of children, and is known among them in various countries as Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Pelznickel.
There have even been invented servants to accompany him and to deal with the children who have been bad.
Saint Nicholas is considered too kind to give scoldings and punishments, so, in Austria Krampus, in Germany Knecht Rupprecht, and in Holland, Black Peter goes along with him, armed with a stout switch, while Saint Nicholas himself simply gives and gives.
Another very old legend tells us of the saint’s kindness to the three daughters of a poor nobleman. They were about to be sold into slavery, because they had no dowry, when Saint Nicholas stole to their home and on three nights in succession dropped a bag of gold down the chimney. This is said to explain why three balls are the pawnbrokers’ sign and why the saint drops gifts for children down the chimney.
Devotion to Saint Nicholas began in Asia Minor, where he was a bishop, and it was brought to Russia by an emperor who was witness to some of his miraculous works. It spread through Lapland and into Scandinavia, to other European countries, and finally to America.
Up to that time Saint Nicholas had been pictured as a lean and ascetic bishop. In America, he became fat and jolly, and his miter was turned into a winter cap, his vestments into a snow suit. But he has kept his reindeer from Lapland, his propensity for chimneys acquired in Asia Minor, and the generosity of his heart.
A French legend tells that long ago Our Lady gave Lorraine to Saint Nicholas as a reward for his kindness to the world. He is still the special patron of that province and on his eve children hang up their stocking, saying:
Saint Nicolas, mon bon patron Envoyez-moi quelqu’ chose de bon.
In Holland Saint Nicholas puts in an appearance on the eve of his feast. As the children sing, the door flies open and on the floor drop candies and nuts–right on a white sheet that has been spread out just in case.
And after he has gone, there is hot punch and chocolate and boiled chestnuts served with butter and sugar. And in the morning, children find in the shoes they have set before the fire toys and many other good things–candy hearts and spice cakes, “letterbankets,” which were candies or cakes in the form of the child’s initials, ginger cakes or “taai-taai” in patterns of birds and fish and the form of the saint himself. He also brings a hard cooky, called “Speculaus.”
1/2 cup butter 2-1/2 cups cake flour 1 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1 egg 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 lemon rind, grated 1/2 teaspoon salt
Cream the butter and sugar, add the egg, and continue beating. Add the grated lemon rind and the flour sifted with the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Let the dough rest overnight in a cool place. Roll out as thinly as possible– about the thickness of the back of a knife blade. Cut into desired shape and bake at 350 degrees F. for fifteen to twenty minutes.
In Switzerland Saint Nicholas parades the streets, his arms full of red apples, cookies, and prunes for the children who crowd to him. In Austria and Germany he throws gilded nuts in at the door while Rupprecht and Krampus, the spoilsports, throw in a few birch twigs.
In Poland if there is a red sunset on Saint Nicholas’ Day, it is because the angels are busily baking the Saint’s Honey Cakes.
Ciastka Miodowe (Honey Cakes)
1/2 cup honey 1 teaspoon soda 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 egg 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 2 egg yolks 1/4 teaspoon cloves 4 cups flour 1/4 teaspoon ginger
Warm the honey slightly and combine with the sugar. Add eggs and beat well. Sift the flour with the soda and spices and stir into the honey batter thoroughly. Let the dough rest overnight. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness; cut out with a cooky cutter. Brush with the slightly beaten white of an egg, press half a blanched almond into each cooky and bake at 375 degrees F. for about fifteen minutes.
Below is two renditions of the St. Nicholas song courtesy of the St. Nicholas Center. I always liked the tune of Jolly Old St. Nicholas but the words are silly. So here is a chance to sing it with some good words!
Saint Nicholas Song
Song tells the story of Saint Nicholas
Thankful Bishop Nicholas,
friendly good and wise,
when he could he helped the poor,
always by surprise.
Rich folk came to Nicholas,
Bringing wealth to share,
so it could be sent to those living in despair.
Three maidens husbands could not find,
their father was so poor;
No dowry was available, to tempt a suitor’s lore.
Word came to youthful Nicholas,
who acted in good taste,
In darkness threw three bags of gold,
retreating in great haste.
Zealous Bishop Nicholas,
born in Pa-tar-a,
Was the Bishop of My-ra
in times of great trial.
Who suffered prison for his faith,
Through torture still held firm,
Released by Constantine the Great,
to My-ra he returned.
Holy Bishop Nicholas,
The sailors patron saint,
saved the storm-tossed mariners
from a salty fate.
Who at Nicea formed the creed—
but jail became his fate,
He punched a pastor in the jaw,
so heated the debate.
Patron Saint of children,
Saint Nicholas did become,
giving gifts at Christmas time,
a special act of love.
His style was different from his peers,
as they would often see,
“Give to the truley needy ones
Gentle Bishop Nicholas,
friendly good and wise,
When he could he helped the poor,
always by surprise.
We too must always seek to share,
our means with those in need,
God help us imitate this saint,
on Advent winter eves.
The Song of St. Nicholas
To the tune of “Jolly Old St. Nicholas”
Once upon a long ago
Very far away,
In the town of Bethlehem
Lying in some hay,
Jesus came for you and me
Bringing heaven’s love
As a gift for us to have
From the Lord above.
In the town of Myra once
Also long ago,
Lived good Bishop Nicholas
Hair as white as snow.
Nicholas loved Jesus who
Loved and helped us all.
“I will do the same,” said he
“Helping great and small.”
Thankful Bishop Nicholas
Friendly, good and wise;
When he could, helped the poor
Always by surprise.
Rich men came to Nicholas
Bringing wealth to share
So it could be sent to those
Living in despair.
We should be like Nicholas
Thankful, good and kind,
Loving those who need our help
All the ones we find.
Jesus and Saint Nicholas
Taught us how to give:
Share but never seek rewards,
That is how to live!
“Cultivate kindness of heart; think well of your fellow-men; look with charity upon the shortcomings in their lives; do a good turn for them, as opportunity offers; and, finally, don’t forget the kind word at the right time. How much such a word of kindness, encouragement, of appreciation means to others sometimes, and how little it costs us to give it!” -J.R. MIller
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