Happy St. Nicholas Day!

St. Nicholas, holy patron of children, saintly and generous bishop, inspire us to give gifts of ourselves and our time.

Give us your blessing so that we might fill with sincerity each greeting we speak and send.

Smiling saint of sweets and toys, help us stay youthful and mirthful, playful and joyful so that we can celebrate every day as Christmas.

Patron Saint of generosity, arouse us to an evergreen extravagance in loving and in giving gifts to those we love and to the poor.

Patron of the un-thanked, who always slips away before you can be thanked, incite us to be like you. (Image and text by Edward Hays)

December 6 is one of my favorite days of the year.  Though I began celebrating the feast of St. Nicholas as an adult, I find it completely magical in a most child-like way.  When our children were small, wanting to foster the true meaning of Christmas over materialism, Joe and I decided St. Nicholas and his feast would stand in nicely for Santa Claus.

The centerpiece of our tradition is cinnamon-spice cookies, cut out in a large image of St. Nicholas and decorated with sprinkles and icing, eaten for breakfast in the early morning dark amidst the flickering light of the Advent wreath. The idea for this custom as well as the recipe came from Gertrud Mueller Nelson’s To Dance with God.

Making the cookies each year has been a transformative personal ritual, planned around family schedules so as to be done in secret.  The decision to try them at all 15 years ago was a leap of faith in itself because first I had to create the St. Nicholas template from which to cut out the cookies (a variety of cookie cutters are now available online).   An accomplished artist and gifted teacher, Gertrud Nelson’s encouraging tone suggested convinced me that I really could draw a freehand outline from her suggested pattern and cut it out of cardboard.  This is placed on the rolled out dough and traced around with a knife to create the Nicholas cookie.

I have come far from the trembling hands and racing heart of my first attempt, but each year the process begins with a frisson of anxiety.  Will the dough roll out ok?  Will I be able to get the cookies from the cutting board to the cookie sheet without mishap?  What if they break in transit (the arms especially tend to be fragile) from baking sheet to cooling rack to storage tin?

The important lesson has been to just clear my mind and proceed.  Don’t over-think it.  Don’t rush, but don’t hesitate either.  I’ve always considered myself a “non-artist” but St. Nicholas has taught me that crossing a creative threshold, making something by hand, is a spiritual illumination, bringing awareness that God truly does become flesh and dwell among us.

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