Nicholas was very generous to the poor. Once he heard that a man who had become very poor intended to abandon his three daughters to a life of sin. He went out by night, flung a bag of gold into the window of the sleeping father, and hurried away.
St. Nicholas is regarded as the special patron of children; the word Santa Claus comes from his name. He died at Myra in the year 342.
Our celebration of the Feast of Saint Nicholas has grown over the years. Although many families follow the Dutch custom of leaving shoes out for the good saint to fill with treats, we have not consistently done that. Frankly, I can't deal with the idea of candy and chocolate -- even wrapped up -- being put into stinky shoes! So we have developed other traditions.
The Saint Nicholas nutcracker goes on display, along with a framed picture of the saint leading a group of children to a nativity scene. This year for the first time I followed the suggestion of the St. Nicholas Center and added a miter and crosier to a large chocolate Santa.
Because Nicholas was from Myra, in modern-day Turkey, some years I prepare revani -- a sweet, moist cake -- for dessert (see recipe below). This year we went out for the evening to a local production of the Gingerbread Boy, so there was no time for baking. Instead, we came home and I announced it was time for a special St. Nicholas Day treat. "Is it him?" Lily asked excitedly, pointing to our chocolate "Bishop of Myra." And indeed it was -- we happily devoured him, along with Pepperidge Farm Gingerman cookies and hot chocolate.
For the past several years we have made a point to "be St. Nicholas for others" and gather together toys to donate to a local charity. This is the hardest part of the day for our girls, but they always rise to the occasion. This year we brought a bag of stuffed friends to the nearest Catholic Charities office. The sting of loss is mitigated a little because December 6 always sees the return of the Playmobil Santa House and this jolly old elf -- a relic from my childhood -- from their hideaway in the attic.
Our St. Nicholas Day celebrations began in a small way years ago, but have expanded as we've learned more about the saint and found new ways to celebrate. It's now one of the highlights of Advent for us.
1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
500 ml water
4-5 drops lemon or orange juice or vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semolina or farina
2/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Boil the syrup ingredients for a few minutes, then put aside and keep warm.
Use a mixer to blend the wet ingredients for a few minutes. Then whisk the dry ingredients together in another bowl. Combine the two thoroughly, again using the mixer.
Grease the bottom and sides of an 8 x 8 x 2" baking dish and pour in the batter.
Bake at 375 degrees F. for 25 minutes.
Pour the warm syrup on top while the cake is still warm. Use a ladle to do this and make sure to do it slowly so the cake absorbs the syrup evenly.
Let cool and serve with whipped cream. Keep this dessert refrigerated.