Monday December 6 is St. Nicholas Day. An oft-overlooked holiday in the United States, it’s more widely celebrated in Europe. And yet the significance of this day named in honor of the benevolent protector and champion of children – Saint Nicholas – is as relevant today as it was in the third century.
In Europe, St. Nicholas Day is a day of sharing, caring, and small deeds to benefit others. Gifts are exchanged to commemorate Nicholas’ kindness to children, and pastry-wrapped fish is traditionally served in honor of his love of the sea.
I love the simplicity of this holiday during the early Christmas Season. There’s no commercialism and there are no expectations. Rather, it’s a day to surprise family, good friends and neighbors with small tokens of love and care so they know I’m thinking about them.
This year, I’m making small felt “mittens” to hang on friends’ doors, sewn together with yarn and filled with peppermint sticks, homemade gingerbread cookies and a sprig of holiday greenery from our Colorado yard. With the aid of a ruler, I draw a mitten template on a piece of cardstock, cut it out, and trace it lightly with a black pen onto pieces of red and white felt. After cutting the felt mittens, I sew them together by hand with a contrasting color of yarn. I discovered that taping one end of the
yarn with cellophane tape and cutting it at an angle makes threading the needle much easier! Add ribbon to the top of the
mittens to tie them to the doorknob and you’re all set. Fill the mittens with cookies, candies, assorted nuts, a tiny notepad,scented candle, or other small trinkets.
I’ve included my holiday cookie recipe for Gingerbread Men to get you started. Kids of all ages will love them!
|1 1/4||teaspoon baking soda|
|2||teaspoons ground ginger|
|1||teaspoon ground cloves|
|1/2||teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg|
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg; set it aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the shortening and sugar until they are light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg and molasses and beat until they are well blended. With a large spoon, gradually stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture along with the water to form a stiff dough. Cover and chill the dough several hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Divide the dough into 4 parts and roll it ¼-inch thick on a floured pastry cloth or kitchen counter, keeping the remaining dough covered and chilled. Cut with a gingerbread cookie cutter and place the cookies on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 7 minutes, then remove them from the oven and cool 1 minute until the cookies are firm. Transfer them to wire racks, cool completely, and decorate with frosting.
|2||tablespoons unsalted butter, softened|
|1 1/2||cups sifted confectioners’ sugar|
In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar together until the frosting is smooth. Add vanilla and beat until it is combined. Place the frosting into a decorator bag fitted with a small plain tip and decorate the cookies as desired.
Yield: 6 to 7 dozen 4-inch cookies