The feasts of early December — St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6); the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8); St. Juan Diego (Dec. 9); Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12) and St. Lucy (Dec.13) — highten the gathering sense of anticipation of Christmas around our house, home and in the office.
Today is St. Nicholas Day, a festive time for brother Pete and me, especially since the arrival of nephew Nicholas Anthony, 16 years ago, whose birthday nearly cooincides with the saint’s feast. We enjoy Dec. 6 as a time to focus on the real St. Nick — Nicholas of Myra — who is so beloved for performing miracles and secretly leaving gifts for the poor. He is the patron saint of, among others, children, sailors, marriageable girls, travelers and the protector and friend of all those in need or in trouble.
As St. Nicholas died on Dec. 6 in 343 A.D., the date has been commemorated for generations (especially in Europe) as St. Nicholas Day, a day of enchantment and the spirit of Christmas for young people.
Throughout Europe, songs are still sung, poems recited and hand made presents are given in his honor as countless white-bearded “St. Nicholas” counterparts arrive on the doorsteps of countless families. And countless “Nikolaus” bread men are baked by grownups and then munched by millions of little mouths in sweet celebration of the real Saint Nicholas.
The baking of Nicholas bread has been an Advent tradition in many European countries for centuries. Made from a sweet, yeast dough and formed by hand into the shape of a plump man, about five inches long, his eyes and mouth are made from raisins and his coat is trimmed with an assortment of raisins, nuts and dried cranberries.
This German recipe is adapted from several on the Internet and I think you’ll find it a lovely treat. It yields 10 Nikolause.
St. Nicholas Bread
Ingredients: One cup milk; 1/2 cup butter; 1 cup sugar; 3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract; grated peel from one lemon; 1/4 oz. rapid yeast; 3 tablespoons warm water; 4 eggs; 6 2/3 cups flour; 1 well beaten egg yolk for glazing; raisins, dried cranberries and nuts for decoration.
Directions: Mix yest together with 1 tablespoon sugar and the warm water; in a sausepan, heat gently milk, butter and sugar and leave to cool; add the flour to a large bowl and after making a hole in the center, pour in the yeast mixture. Gently mix together, cover and allow to rise for about 20 minutes; add milk and butter mixture to the flour, mix thoroughly and knead until well combined and smooth. Roll into a ball, sprinkle with flour and let rise for 45 minutes.
Flatten out dough, divide into 10 pieces and by hand, form the rounded shape of a man. Place the Nikolause on greased baking tray, allow to rise another 20 to 45 minutes. Brush with beaten egg yolk and decorate with raisins, cranberries and nuts. Bake in preheated oven at 325 for 10 or 15 minutes or until golden brown.