By Marion Algier – The War on Christmas verses the Spirit of Christmas Series at AskMarion – 6
“There are three stages of a man’s life: He believes in Santa Claus or St Nickolas, he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, he is Santa Claus.” …Unknown
Today, in many parts of the world, Saint Nicholas delivers gifts on the eve of his Feast Day, December 6, and Christmas is reserved for the religious observance of Christ’s birth. It is a positive way to do both the gifts and the religious celebrations, while separating them! In other places, like the United States, the two holidays are intertwined.
St. Nicholas generally brings slippers, pajamas, fruit & nuts, cookies & goodies and books or the like. Then toys or a special gift are under the tree, brought by the Christkindl or Christ Child on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. (Most of Europe traditionally celebrates their Christmas on Christmas Eve.)
Happy St. Nicolas Day!!
One of the lesser known aspects of Christmastime and St Nickolas Day, is the Krampus. Beware, boys and girls, for if you are naughty you may receive a visit from the Krampus! He has a whip and he isn’t afraid to use it!
The threat of a visit by the Krampus, who accompanied St Nicholas, was a deterrent to bad behavior. Think of the Grinch with a really, really bad temper and you are getting close. He gained popularity (if that’s what you can call it!) out in the remote isolated Alpine areas in Northern Europe, due in part to the popularity of Christmas cards portraying him in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
My father, who grew up during and after World War I without a father in a small Alpine town outside of Linz, Austria because he was off at war and never came home, told stories of St. Nickolas arriving on cross-country skis with the Krampus in tow on a chain, often to homes where mothers were having problems with unruly children, especially boys. Most had an immediate attitude change after just seeing him, but there were stories of the Krampus tossing particularly incorrigible kids into his black sack and taking them on a harrowing ski ride from which all returned calmer and more agreeable children… at least for awhile. Some kids who had not been quite bad enough to deal with the Krampus directly, but were on the edge, would just hear the rattling of his chain as St. Nickolas left them a lump of coal instead of goodies.
If you’ve never read Der Struwwelpeter (Kindle) (Struwwelpeter in English Translation) (1845 Original Scanned Kindle Edition) then you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a children’s book which uses stories and wonderful illustrations to suggest that misbehavior is likely to end in disaster and even death. It’s a wonderful tool, but probably a little too politically incorrect for some these days.
There are those who complain about the “commercialization” of the Christmas season and that commercialism can detract from the holiday’s religious roots…
However, we must remember that Christmas has always been more than just a religious holiday. Today it is more secular than during some times in the past, but it has always been celebrated with gifts and other festivities, and often with little regard to religion. And it should be remembered that the message of peace, brotherhood and good will which is central to the Christmas season is a message everyone can appreciate.
As to commercialization, we must also remember that St. Nicholas came from a wealthy family and did not hesitate to use his wealth to purchase the things he gave to those in distress. For the past seventeen centuries, parents have honored him by buying gifts on his feast day or on Christmas and secretly giving them to their children as gifts from St. Nicholas.
So the season has always had its commercial aspects. After all, St. Nicholas is the patron saint of both the children who are the focus of much of the gift giving as well as the merchants who sell the gifts.
In countries like Germany and Austria where they celebrate the entire Christmas Season from Advent to the Holy 3-Kings Day or the Epiphany (December 1st or 2nd through January 6th) there are many celebrations and much family time, on-going gifts and fun as well as plenty of time for those who remember what Christmas is really about: to worship, reflect, be grateful and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Interestingly enough in these same regions in addition to the Christmas Season Celebrations they also have Fasching (Mardi Gras) Group meetings and early celebrations that overlap and ultimately end with Lent.
Many of the purists or traditional conservative Christians dislike the meshing of Christianity and the old pagan festivals. In countries where children have a good grounding in their faith and family, the pagan and commercial additions add a little fun without distorting the true meaning of the season. It is in modern society, including present day Europe and America, where children and people in general have lost their grounding and understanding of their faith and history and embrace only the fun activities and gifts, where these extras or the blending have become a problem.
How to Celebrate St Nikolas Day:
- Tell your kids the story of Bishop Nicholas and how he came to be the patron saint of children.
- Hold a Saint Nicholas Day party and serve the spicy speculaas cookies that are associated with Saint Nick.
- Help your children find the true spirit behind Santa Claus by emulating the Bishop’s kindness: encourage them to give part of their allowance to a cause that helps children or to buy gifts for a local toy drive. You could also help them gather up outgrown clothes or old toys and give them to a charity
- Encourage your children to make gifts for the special people in their lives or to give them whatever help they need.
Speculaas Cookies or Spicy Sinterklass Cakes
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped slivered almonds
- 2 tablespoons chopped candied citron
- 2/3 cup butter
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
- In a large bowl, dissolve the brown sugar in milk. Combine the flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking powder and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the sugar and milk. Mix in 2 tablespoons of almonds and candied citron. Cut in the butter until it starts to form a dough, then knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Cover dough and chill for about 1 hour for easier handling.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Dust a wooden speculaas mold lightly with cornstarch. Firmly press the dough into the mold. Run a knife around the edges to trim off excess dough. Gently lift dough out of the mold or tap out onto a cookie sheet. Press remaining almond slivers into cookies to match the designs.
- Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, just until the edges begin to darken. If your cookies are more than 1/2 inch thick, bake at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for up to 30 minutes. Cool cookies on wire racks to crisp. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a month. The flavor will get better with age.
Amount Per Serving Calories: 83 | Total Fat: 4.2g | Cholesterol: 11mg
“One of the problems we have in this country is that too many adults believe in Santa Claus, and too many children don’t! …Lee Lauer
h/t to Wikipedia
Two great new books for the holidays: ‘Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas’ (Kindle) and The Romney Family Table: Sharing Home-Cooked Recipes & Favorite Traditions (Kindle)