St. Nicholas Day
On December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day recognizes the third-century saint who became an inspiration for the modern-day Santa Claus. St. Nicholas is known for selling all his possessions and giving his money to the poor.
There was a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry – a dowry money or property a woman brings to marriage; such payment was necessary in order to marry in the ancient world. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.
St. Nicholas was known for his secret of gift giving in the night. In the spirit of St. Nicholas, prepare some “sacks of gold.” Put a few Christmas cookies or candies into a square of tissue paper and tie this into a bag with ribbon. Then, after dark, sneak around to friends’ houses to secretly leave the goodies at their doors. Run away quickly!
Your family can celebrate by setting a table with rich colors of reds and golds. Add any images you have of St. Nicholas as a bishop. At this dark time of year, many votive candles add atmosphere. Enjoy your feast, sing or say the prayer below and appreciate the sense of mystery that can sometimes be felt on this feast day!
Sing this prayer to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”
He snuck out in the nighttime.
He left gifts in the darkness.
He helped many, many people,
Because he loved God so much!
Who is this secret person?
Who is this mystery?
He’s called St. Nicholas,
But he’s also you and me!
So, good saint, please help us
To love and give to one another.
We know that is what God asks us,
So please help us we pray!
St. Lucia Day
A week after St. Nicholas Day is the holiday of Santa Lucia Day, or Lucinatta, or Luciadag, or Saint Lucy’s Day, on December 13. Lucia means “light,” and a week before the shortest day of the year, as the hours of daylight seem to diminish more and more quickly, St. Lucy’s feast was tied to the winter solstice and the beginning of the return of light to the world. It is celebrated with processions, led by a young girl wearing a crown of candles, hymn singing, and saffron buns. These traditions symbolize bringing the Light of Christ into the world’s darkness. Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated most widely in Scandinavia and in Italy. In some traditions, St. Nicholas Day was the day when little boys received gifts, and St. Lucia Day was the day when little girls received gifts.
A popular treat for St. Lucia Day are Lucekater, or Saffron Buns. In many homes, St. Lucy Day is celebrated by the youngest daughter of the house dressing in a white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles bringing a breakfast of Lucekater and coffee on a tray. (But they are mighty tasty with a cup of hot cocoa, too!)
Here is a recipe for Lucekater, or Saffron Buns, you can make at home.
Ingredients: 1 c. milk 1⁄2 c. sugar, plus 1 Tbs., divided 1 tsp. saffron thread 1⁄4 oz. active dry yeast 4 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour 1 tsp. kosher salt 1 tsp. ground cardamom 3 large eggs, divided 1⁄4 c. sour cream 6 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened raisin, or chocolate chips
1. In a small saucepan, combine the milk, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and the saffron threads. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the milk is steaming, remove from the heat and let cool to 110 ̊F (43 ̊C). 2. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and let bubble, about 5 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, remaining sugar, salt, and cardamom.
4. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the milk, 2 eggs, sour cream, and butter. Stir to combine, then, once the dough starts to come together, use your hands to incorporate fully.
5. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead until the dough is springy, about 5 minutes.
6. Place the dough in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
7. Punch down the dough and flip onto a clean surface.
8. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball about 2 inches (5 cm) wide, then roll into a cylinder about 12-14 inches (30 cm) long
9. Swirl the dough into a S shape starting at one end until the middle and then the other end.
10. Transfer the dough to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 30 minutes, until doubled in size.
11. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
12. Beat the remaining egg and brush over the dough swirls. Place a single raisin or chocolate chip in the center of the swirls on each end.
13. Bake the buns for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through.
St. Lucia’s Crown Craft
Making a St. Lucy crown can be made with candles and garlands, but they can also be made from paper for an easy craft. A printable crown template is attached and directions on how to make your own crown are below.