Sunday, December 07, 2008

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day!

Yesterday, December 6, was the feast of Saint Nicholas. There is an old tradition of putting out a shoe the evening before, and in the morning there will be treats left inside. We used to leave our shoes in the hall in my Catholic school, and St. Nicholas would come by and leave a candy cane, which is a symbol of his bishop's crozier.

So, we are continuing this fun tradition in our home. Caroline left her shoe out on the hearth - her favorite pink shoe - for St. Nicholas to fill. He did, as you can see - he left chocolate coins, a chocolate angel, and four holy cards - St. Nicholas, St. Lucy, St. Juan Diego/Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Stephen (all have feast days this month). The reason for the chocolate coins is this: it is said that St. Nicholas left money for a poor family whose daughters had no dowry. Different legends say that he left the money at the doorstep/in the girls' shoes/in stockings hung to dry by the fire/dropped it down the chimney/threw it through a window.

Look! St. Nicholas also made cookie dough and left it to chill overnight in our refrigerator!

And he put out some festive placemats and flowers! Gosh, he sure was busy!

Caroline colored these St. Nicholas pictures that I printed from St. Nicholas Center. She then wanted to put them up as decorations, so we did. I helped her color a little bit, but she did most of it on her own. She is really begin to get better fine motor control... and a longer attention span, which is also helpful! ;)

Here she is with her loot after waking up in the morning.

Later in the morning, we baked our St. Nicholas cookies using the dough that had appeared in the fridge overnight. Here's Caroline in her apron after helping me roll and cut dough. Surprisingly, she was more interested in doing this last year. Go figure.

The cookie dough recipe is a traditional German recipe for St. Nicholas Day. I use all butter instead of shortening, and this time I used Sucanat instead of brown sugar. They are basically a type of gingerbread or spice cookie. Once again, I freehanded a shape to trace rather than getting one of the nifty St. Nicholas cookie cutters. Maybe next year he'll bring me one!

I decorated them using royal icing once they were cool. Notice the one on the left and how it's funny looking? Well, when I (ahem, I mean St. Nicholas) made the dough, the sugar was initially left out. So it was kneaded in by hand at the end. And Sucanat doesn't mix in too well to begin with, so... Anyway, the more I rolled out the dough, the better incorporated the Sucanat became, and the cookies started to look a little more uniform and less splotchy!

For dinner, we had a stuffed pork roast. I don't know how to stuff a pork roast, so I just made it up. I cut some big slits in it and put the filling in (raisins, prunes, apple, and cranberries) and then tied it up. The filling burned a bit on the exposed parts, but what was inside turned out just fine. The idea for having this on St. Nicholas Day is that the fruits are hidden (well, maybe if you know how to properly stuff a roast!), just like how St. Nicholas did his good deeds in secret. We added a prayer to St. Nicholas to our nightly Advent wreath lighting and prayer.

I am trying to figure out how we'll handle the whole Santa thing. Obviously, St. Nicholas is a different being from Santa, as he was a real man who walked the earth and is now a saint in heaven, and Santa is a made up character with some basis coming from St. Nicholas. I don't want the focus of Christmas to be Santa (has anyone else noticed at this time of year how many strangers will ask your kids, "So, what are you asking Santa to bring you?" or "Have you seen Santa yet this year?"). I am thinking that reading the secular Santa stories is fine, and then my girls can pretend about Santa if they so choose. For me, the best part about Santa was that some presents appeared after we were in bed, and so they were total surprises to us in the morning. We can still put out gifts after the girls are asleep... especially this year, with a baby who loves paper - there may not be any gifts out until nighttime on the 24th this year! But I would love to hear how other families handle this, so leave a comment if you so choose.


sara said...

well, you know we only have a 14-month-old (plus bun in the oven), but we have been talking about how to handle santa for *years*. i kid you not. we don't have many santa decorations around the house, but we do have 2 nativity scenes that we play around with. we just want to convey to andrew that Jesus is our main man at christmas, not santa, so that means no pictures with santa at the mall, no letters to him, etc. but i think in later years he might get a present or two from santa every year. it is a very casual thing. i find nothing wrong with a little childlike belief in santa, but when he starts to ask questions, we won't withhold anything.

Erin said...

That is basically my idea right now as well... I like how you say "a casual thing" - what a good way to describe it! If the girls want to leave out milk and cookies or something, then we can play along. I just want it to be a fun thing for them, but not be one of the first things they think of when they hear the word Christmas.

Tim said...

make sure you tell mom not to ask Caroline what Santa brought her too. Cuz you know that she will and the rest of the family will think that its mean to deprive her of a commercial ploy to detract from Christmas, but I got your back.

Bridgette said...

In my house I would ask for things for Christmas and my parents would explain the things that were too big or too much (once I was older and understood money) but that I could ask Santa for them. So yes I wrote letters (which my dad kept -- he kept my last one to Santa in his wallet until he died) and asked for the big things I wanted. And then Santa brought 1 very special present to me that night while I was sleeping. As I got older it was explained to me that Santa was the spirit of Christmas -- he embodied giving to people. But Christmas was never all about Santa. I understood Jesus was the reason for the season and such. Santa was the way my parents could "spoil" me on Christmas without my actually getting spoiled. You also have to be cautious about teaching them about Santa. You wouldn't want them going up to some other child and saying "Santa isn't real" and ruining something other families are practicing with their children. Just my 2 cents.

Erin said...

Right, I wouldn't want to ruin it for other kids... I think it'd be good to explain that Santa is a fun part of Christmas and that other kids like to pretend he is real, so we should not try to convince them otherwise... that we don't want to ruin the fun of it. To me, the most fun part of Santa was having surprise gifts out in the morning that weren't there when we went to bed... we still begged our parents to do that for us even when we were all teenagers!

Tim, I don't think they will be asking Caroline about Santa... I don't mind some all-in-fun Santa discussion, as long as it's not the focus. Part of the issue is that adults sometimes don't know what to say to kids about Christmas other than Santa stuff. No adults randomly say to children, "So, what is your favorite part of celebrating the birth of Christ?" Although Caroline could probably answer that, ha ha - I doubt that any old ladies in Kroger will come up and ask her that, though!

Lisa said...

Your St. Nicholas cookies are adorable! Wow, you (and St. Nick) are very creative! :-) Way to go in keeping the focus of Christmas on Christ!