by Jan Hass
Saint Nicholas lived during the fourth century and was bishop of Myra in Lycia which is now part of Turkey. According to one story, in the secret of night, he dropped gold coins through windows and into the stockings of families with young girls who were poor and didn’t have money for a dowry. St. Nick was the original Santa Claus and many miracles were attributed to him (click to see an artist’s representation of the saint in bronze). Travelers love to collect St. Nicholas mementos on their journeys. St. Nick is the patron saint of children and my husband would say he might also be the patron saint of parents, who do countless acts of service for their children, all without counting the cost.
When our girls were young, we wanted to celebrate the real Santa Claus so we began the tradition over 25 years ago of leaving our shoes by the front door on the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas, December 6th. In the morning, our girls would find their shoes overflowing with gold coins, St. Nicholas shaped cookies, candy canes for the tree, and a new Christmas book to read throughout the month of December. Extra cookies were left so we could play St. Nicholas and leave them on the doorsteps of friends and neighbors, all done without letting on who the deliverer was.
Celebrating this holy feast day with our daughters became one of the highlights of the season. When our oldest asked about the real Santa Claus, Tony answered that while he may not fly with reindeer, he did in fact do good deeds for others, and now that she knew the truth, it was her job to become St. Nicholas in spirit, keeping the secret, and doing for others with a true spirit of giving.
Today, I want to share with you the recipe for St. Nicholas cookies, also called Speculatius, which we have made each advent for the past 26 years, sometimes at 2:00 in the morning, just to keep the secret safe. The recipe comes from the book To Dance with God, by Getrud Mueller Nelson. Become St. Nicholas and make up a batch to share secretly with your family and friends. It is a great way to enjoy the spirit of giving this season of Advent.
Mix in order:
1 cup shortening
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs whole
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tsp. baking powder
4 cups flour
4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. cloves
Turn out onto a floured board. Knead in about one cup additional flour or as much as you need until dough is no longer sticky and is easy to handle.
Put into a plastic bag and refrigerate until chilled and stiff. Then you are ready to roll out and cut the cookies. Cut off a manageable piece and keep the rest cool until you are read for more.
For many little cut-out shapes, roll out the dough thinly. Thin cookies are tastiest.
For the larger, decorated St. Nicholas cookies, roll the dough to about ¼ inch thickness. Cut the cookie around paper pattern. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 for 6-8 minutes.
Jan Haas is a self-care coach, author and artist. She enjoys walking with others, sharing tools to help them illuminate their brilliant selves.