Tag Archives: St. Nicholas

Today is St.Nicholas Day

St. Nicholas by Jaroslav Cermak (1831-1878)
Public Domain

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas, the basis for what has become known as Santa Claus. He was born in the third century to a wealthy family in the village of Patara (now located on the southern coast of Turkey). At the time the area was mostly Greek. While he was young, his parents died during an epidemic. Raised as a Christian, he believed in obeying Jesus in giving his inheritance to those in need. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra was still quite young. He earned a reputation for being generous to those in need, his love for children, and concern for sailors and ships.

During the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Christians were ruthlessly persecuted and Nicholas suffered for his faith by being exiled and imprisoned. Despite all of the hardship he endured, he never wavered in his faith. He was released and attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. He died on 6 December 343 AD in Myra and was buried. The anniversary of his death would become a celebration and still celebrated to this day (it is 19 December on the Julian calendar used by Eastern Orthodox churches).

His generous deeds and miracles attributed to him spread during the Middle Ages. Many sailors claimed him as a patron and told of him when they traveled. Churches dedicated to Nicholas appeared in many seaport cities. His name spread both east and west making him a very popular saint with many churches named after him in Austria, Belgium, England, Italy, Russia and Switzerland to name a few. His tomb became popular to visit but concerns over wars in the area cutting off access worried many. In 1087 sailors from Bari were able to retrieve his relics and bring them back. A church was built over his crypt so that pilgrims could visit. The shrine to St. Nicholas in Bari became a major pilgrimage center during medieval Europe. People still visit the shrine today at the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari.

The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches all have his feast day on their calendars. His generosity and compassion are seen as a model of Christian life. There is some confusion generated about how saint feasts days are celebrated in the Catholic church. Since there quite a number of saints with feasts, it was decided that some saint feast days would be optional for a diocese to celebrate. Saint Nicholas became one of them. He was not stripped of his sainthood. In a diocese where he is popular, has churches or schools named after him, or perhaps the bishop believes he is model to be held up for veneration, his feast day will be celebrated. His feast day is celebrated throughout Europe and in Russia and children receive gifts on the day. Saint Nicholas’ feast day is usually the start of the Christmas season in Europe and elsewhere.

Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas did not fare well during the Protestant Reformation. Saints, even revered ones, were removed to focus on Jesus. Some went so far as to nearly ban any public display of traditional religious customs related to saints or even Christmas (it was not a holiday for that reason in areas that groups like the Puritans dominated). Martin Luther wanted to shift the focus of Christmas to Jesus. The problem was that you cannot have a baby delivering gifts to children as Saint Nicholas did.  He came up with the Christkind, a children’s gift giver. This angel, depicted as young girl, brings the gifts when the children are not present. In Nuremberg, the Christkind is selected every two years by vote and between the ages of 16-19. The Christkind opens the Christmas market. She also has her picture taken with kids, listens to what they want, visits kids in hospitals and the elderly as well amongst many other duties. The Christkind was also adopted by many German Catholics as well and spread into Latin America as well. In some cases, both the Christkind and Saint Nicholas deliver presents together.

Despite attempts to diminish Saint Nicholas using the Christkind, he remained popular except in England where many Christmas folk traditions were altered (especially under the rule of the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell). Puritans in America (and some others as well) forbade celebrating Christmas. German immigrants brought celebrating Christmas with them along with Saint Nicholas as well. It was believed the Dutch had brought Saint Nicholas to America, but recent scholarship indicates that was not likely (it is not mentioned in letters or records from the Dutch who lived in New Amsterdam at the time). It appears a series of fictional stories about Saint Nicholas (described as a jolly man with a clay piper) being celebrated by the early Dutch may have been the source.

The 19th century was one of change in America regarding Christmas-and elsewhere as well. Since it was not a sacred or public holiday in many places, it was not the time of carols and goodwill we think about today. Instead, it was a was a rowdy holiday where many got wildly drunk, gambled, and got riotous in some cases threatening people. In England, the Father Christmas figure was about adult merriment and feasting and had nothing to do with children. The actual celebration of Christmas seemed to be fading until books were published depicting Christmas as a time for family, children and faith were published in the 19th century. Washington Irving’s The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon (1819) depicted the celebration of Christmas in England as a warm holiday where peasants were invited into the home to celebrate the holiday. And stories about a magical gift giver called Sante Claus began to appear. Books such as The Children’s Friend  (1821)had a character delivering gifts to children on Christmas Eve. Flying a sleigh and living up north, this Sante Claus would form the basis of what is known today as Santa Claus.

Merry Old Santa Claus
Thomas Nast, 1881
Public Domain

The famous Clement Clark Moore poem A Visit from St. Nicholas would further cement the image of this Sante Claus. Books depicting Christmas began to appear and of course the most famous being A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in 1843. This came at a time in Britain when they were re-examining Christmas. This book and others would further help to makeChristmas as a time for families, children, and caring about the less fortunate as well. Thomas Nast, the famous political cartoonist, illustrated him as a rotund figure with a beard, fur clothing, and with a clay pipe in 1863. He also changed the name to Santa Claus. His image, with some embellishments and refinements, has remained more or less intact to our time. Christmas was becoming widely celebrated and by 1860 had already been adopted as a state holiday in fourteen states. In 1870, President Grant proclaimed Christmas Day as a federal holiday in the District of Columbia. Congress would pass legislation that made Christmas, New Years, Independence Day and Thanksgiving as federal holidays (remember back then nearly all federal workers were in the District of Columbia). States would also make it a holiday as well.

By the start of the 1930’s, the American Santa had come full form thanks to various illustrators such as Norman Rockwell. Coca-Cola would use Santa in its advertising further establishing his identity in the commercial world. The jolly man with the red suit would be seen in magazines, billboards, shop counters, and greeting cards. A benign source of happiness and seemingly endorsing all kinds of commercial products, he became as American as apple pie (to coin a phrase). His image would spread out to the world competing with local versions (Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Babbo Natale, Sinter Klass, Julenesse etc.) Saint Nicholas still retains his place in Europe despite this.

Many people, seeing Santa as a commercial and pagan creation, are now reclaiming the saint for use in the holiday. Saint Nicholas brings a spiritual emphasis to the holiday, which Santa does not. Some have tried to ban Santa Claus because of his supposed connection to Saint Nicholas, except there is none. One is a revered saint and bishop, the other a complete concoction of writers, illustrators, and marketing departments. There is nothing Christian about Santa Claus. Movies like The Santa Clause, while entertaining, put him into a world of fantasy beings like Mother Nature, Cupid, and the Tooth Fairy. By returning focus to Saint Nicholas, we get closer to what the celebration is about.

Sources:

Who is St. Nicholas? (St. Nicholas Center)
Federal Holidays: Evolution and Current Practices (Congressional Research Service)
A History of Christmas in America (The Classical Historian)
History of Christmas (History.com)

CHRISTMAS EVE: A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS

Image:public domain

A Visit from St. Nicholas

by Clement Clark Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads; And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap, Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap, When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

Today is the Feast of St.Nicholas:The Real Santa Claus

St. Nicholas by Jaroslav Cermak (1831-1878)
Public Domain

St. Nick is often used as another name for Santa Claus but in truth Nicholas is the original. Born in the third century a.d., Nicholas became well known for his charity to children and others. He was imprisoned by the Romans and beaten. He never renounced his faith. Later when released when Constantine became emperor, he continued his life serving God and his faith. He lived to be a very old man dying on 6 December 343. Stories of his charity to children and others spread and long after his death people still revered him with churches built in his name. Stories of miracles attributed to him emerged as well.

The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches all have his feast day on their calendars (those using the Julian calendar celebrate it on 19  St_ NicholasDecember). The Roman Catholic Church did not strip him of being a saint. Until 1968, every saint had a feast day that had to be celebrated in every diocese. What they did was make certain feast days optional and allow each diocese to decide whether to celebrate it or not. St. Nicholas is an optional feast day so it is up to the diocese to decide.

Stories of a mythical gift giver (often from pagan beliefs like forest elves that leave presents for nice kids) became popular in many European countries and were imported to the U.S. Various aspects from German, Dutch, and English were blended to create the character–the commercial character–of Santa Claus. There is no connection between St. Nicholas and the modern day character that lives in the North Pole, has flying reindeer, and elves to make toys. Santa Claus is a purely secular and even by some standards a pagan creation with no connection to St.Nicholas or Christianity. Remember that when someone says Santa Claus ought to be banned because is based on a religious figure.

For further information about St.Nicholas, go to Saint Nicholas Center.

By the way, there is a resurgence in celebrating the feast day. Usually children get treats (in stockings or boots) and often kicks off the Christmas season.

So what do you think– Santa Claus or St. Nicholas?

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, the real Santa Claus

St_ NicholasSt. Nick is often used as another name for Santa Claus but in truth Nicholas is the original. Born in the third century a.d., Nicholas became well known for his charity to children and others. He was imprisoned by the Romans and beaten. He never renounced his faith. Later when released when Constantine became emperor, he continued his life serving God and his faith. He lived to be a very old man dying on 6 December 343. Stories of his charity to children and others spread and long after his death people still revered him with churches built in his name. Stories of miracles attributed to him emerged as well.

The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches all have his feast day on their calendars (those using the Julian calendar celebrate it on 19 December). The Roman Catholic Church did not strip him of being a saint. Until 1968, every saint had a feast day that had to be celebrated in every diocese. What they did was make certain feast days optional and allow each diocese to decide whether to celebrate it or not. St. Nicholas is an optional feast day so it is up to the diocese to decide.

Stories of a mythical gift giver (often from pagan beliefs like forest elves that leave presents for nice kids) became popular in many European countries and were imported to the U.S. Various aspects from German, Dutch, and English were blended to create the character–the commercial character–of Santa Claus. There is no connection between St. Nicholas and the modern day character that lives in the North Pole, has flying reindeer, and elves to make toys. Santa Claus is a purely secular and even by some standards a pagan creation with no connection to St.Nicholas or Christianity. Remember that when someone says Santa Claus ought to be banned because is based on a religious figure.

For further information about St.Nicholas, go to Saint Nicholas Center.

By the way, there is a resurgence in celebrating the feast day. Usually children get treats (in stockings or boots) and often kicks off the Christmas season.

So what do you think– Santa Claus or St. Nicholas?

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, the real Santa Claus

St_ NicholasSt. Nick is often used as another name for Santa Claus but in truth Nicholas is the original. Born in the third century a.d., Nicholas became well known for his charity to children and others. He was imprisoned by the Romans and beaten. He never renounced his faith. Later when released when Constantine became emperor, he continued his life serving God and his faith. He lived to be a very old man dying on 6 December 343. Stories of his charity to children and others spread and long after his death people still revered him with churches built in his name. Stories of miracles attributed to him emerged as well.

The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches all have his feast day on their calendars (those using the Julian calendar celebrate it on 19 December). The Roman Catholic Church did not strip him of being a saint. Until 1968, every saint had a feast day that had to be celebrated in every diocese. What they did was make certain feast days optional and allow each diocese to decide whether to celebrate it or not. St. Nicholas is an optional feast day so it is up to the diocese to decide.

Stories of a mythical gift giver (often from pagan beliefs like forest elves that leave presents for nice kids) became popular in many European countries and were imported to the U.S. Various aspects from German, Dutch, and English were blended to create the character–the commercial character–of Santa Claus. There is no connection between St. Nicholas and the modern day character that lives in the North Pole, has flying reindeer, and elves to make toys. Santa Claus is a purely secular and even by some standards a pagan creation with no connection to St.Nicholas or Christianity. Remember that when someone says Santa Claus ought to be banned because is based on a religious figure.

For further information about St.Nicholas, go to Saint Nicholas Center.

By the way, there is a resurgence in celebrating the feast day. Usually children get treats (in stockings or boots) and often kicks off the Christmas season.

So what do you think– Santa Claus or St. Nicholas?

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, the real Santa Claus

St_ NicholasSt. Nick is often used as another name for Santa Claus but in truth Nicholas is the original. Born in the third century a.d., Nicholas became well known for his charity to children and others. He was imprisoned by the Romans and beaten. He never renounced his faith. Later when released when Constantine became emperor, he continued his life serving God and his faith. He lived to be a very old man dying on 6 December 343. Stories of his charity to children and others spread and long after his death people still revered him with churches built in his name. Stories of miracles attributed to him emerged as well.

The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches all have his feast day on their calendars (those using the Julian calendar celebrate it on 19 December). The Roman Catholic Church did not strip him of being a saint. Until 1968, every saint had a feast day that had to be celebrated in every diocese. What they did was make certain feast days optional and allow each diocese to decide whether to celebrate it or not. St. Nicholas is an optional feast day so it is up to the diocese to decide.

Stories of a mythical gift giver (often from pagan beliefs like forest elves that leave presents for nice kids) became popular in many European countries and were imported to the U.S. Various aspects from German, Dutch, and English were blended to create the character–the commercial character–of Santa Claus. There is no connection between St. Nicholas and the modern day character that lives in the North Pole, has flying reindeer, and elves to make toys. Santa Claus is a purely secular and even by some standards a pagan creation with no connection to St.Nicholas or Christianity. Remember that when someone says Santa Claus ought to be banned because is based on a religious figure.

For further information about St.Nicholas, go to Saint Nicholas Center.

By the way, there is a resurgence in celebrating the feast day. Usually children get treats (in stockings or boots) and often kicks off the Christmas season.

So what do you think– Santa Claus or St. Nicholas?

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, the real Santa Claus

St_ NicholasSt. Nick is often used as another name for Santa Claus but in truth Nicholas is the original. Born in the third century a.d., Nicholas became well known for his charity to children and others. He was imprisoned by the Romans and beaten. He never renounced his faith. Later when released when Constantine became emperor, he continued his life serving God and his faith. He lived to be a very old man dying on 6 December 343. Stories of his charity to children and others spread and long after his death people still revered him with churches built in his name. Stories of miracles attributed to him emerged as well.

The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches all have his feast day on their calendars (those using the Julian calendar celebrate it on 19 December). The Roman Catholic Church did not strip him of being a saint. Until 1968, every saint had a feast day that had to be celebrated in every diocese. What they did was make certain feast days optional and allow each diocese to decide whether to celebrate it or not. St. Nicholas is an optional feast day so it is up to the diocese to decide.

Stories of a mythical gift giver (often from pagan beliefs like forest elves that leave presents for nice kids) became popular in many European countries and were imported to the U.S. Various aspects from German, Dutch, and English were blended to create the character–the commercial character–of Santa Claus. There is no connection between St. Nicholas and the modern day character that lives in the North Pole, has flying reindeer, and elves to make toys. Santa Claus is a purely secular and even by some standards a pagan creation with no connection to St.Nicholas or Christianity. Remember that when someone says Santa Claus ought to be banned because is based on a religious figure.

For further information about St.Nicholas, go to Saint Nicholas Center.

By the way, there is a resurgence in celebrating the feast day. Usually children get treats (in stockings or boots) and often kicks off the Christmas season.

So what do you think? Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas?

Today is the Feast of St.Nicholas, the real Santa Claus

St. Nick is often used as another name for Santa Claus but in truth Nicholas is the original. St_ NicholasBorn in the third century a.d., Nicholas became well known for his charity to children and others. He was imprisoned by the Romans and beaten. He never renounced his faith. Later when released when Constantine became emperor, he continued his life serving God and his faith. He lived to be a very old man dying on 6 December 343. Stories of his charity to children and others spread and long after his death people still revered him with churches built in his name. Stories of miracles attributed to him emerged as well.

The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches all have his feast day on their calendars (those using the Julian calendar celebrate it on 19 December). The Roman Catholic Church did not strip him of being a saint. Until 1968, every saint had a feast day that had to be celebrated in every diocese. What they did was make certain feast days optional and allow each diocese to decide whether to celebrate it or not. St. Nicholas is an optional feast day so it is up to the diocese to decide.

Stories of a mythical gift giver (often from pagan beliefs like forest elves that leave presents for nice kids) became popular in many European countries and were imported to the U.S. Various aspects from German, Dutch, and English were blended to create the character–the commercial character–of Santa Claus. There is no connection between St. Nicholas and the modern day character that lives in the North Pole, has flying reindeer, and elves to make toys. Santa Claus is a purely secular and even by some standards a pagan creation with no connection to St.Nicholas or Christianity. Remember that when someone says Santa Claus ought to be banned because is based on a religious figure.

For further information about St.Nicholas, go to Saint Nicholas Center.

By the way, there is a resurgence in celebrating the feast day. Usually children get treats (in stockings or boots) and often kicks off the Christmas season.

So what do you think? Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas?

Christmas Is Here

Instead of musing about Titanic I decided to offer some thoughts and more about the Christmas season.

Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus: A saint and a fairy tale

Martin Luther, when he rebelled against the Catholic Church, desired to reform Christmas to reflect its true meaning. So he decided that gifts ought to be coming from the Christ child (Christkind in German). The problem was convincing kids and everyone else to accept gifts coming from a baby. So they eventually developed a convenient stand-in, an angel who serves as a gift-giving Christ child that flies around on Christmas Eve leaving presents. The name Christkind stuck and today young female girls are selected to be Christkind in German cities and towns. Dressed in white with glittering gold wings and crown, she makes many public appearances to spread the joy of the season. In Nuremberg the Christkind is usually a 17 year old girl chosen in a city-wide contest serving for two years. The post comes with chauffeur to drive her to the many appearances required in December and afterwords.

Yet Luther was unable to dislodge St. Nicholas, whose feast comes on 6 December, as he was too beloved a figure for many. So German children got the best of both worlds with both St. Nicholas and Christkind. And today St. Nicholas is more popular than ever and not just in Germany. His feast day is celebrated in many countries and usually the beginning of the Christmas season. Some of the renewed popularity comes from the import of another gift-giver: Santa Claus. Santa Claus is a composite figure drawn from several sources. It begins with the real Saint Nicholas but draws upon the British Father Christmas (a figure that went through several changes from pagan, to saintly, then a merry party giver and finally a gift-giver), the Dutch Sinterklaus, the French Pere Noel, and even the Christkind. Some versions, like the French, Dutch, and Swiss, have him accompanied by someone to remind children to be good (or he might take you away in a sack!). With early settlers being English and Dutch, Saint Nicholas was very popular but Sinterklaus was too hard to say and became Santa Claus.

Santa Claus then took on attributes of the Christkind in being able to fly around and hand out toys. Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from Saint Nicholas (1822) added that he had a sleigh pulled by magical reindeer. He could go up and down chimney by touching his nose. These fairy-tale attributes had add-ons later with him residing at the North Pole and elves making toys. The image of Santa Claus as a jolly fellow with apple cheeks and twinkling eyes came from illustrations in Harper’s Weekly in the late 1800’s. His commercial appeal became apparent to shopkeepers and department stores. And Coca-Cola used him in the 1930’s to advertise during the Christmas season. Santa was completely secularized and turned into a fairy-tale figure. Nothing of his connection to Saint Nicholas remains (except the use of the name St. Nick).

Today when I read that Santa Claus has been removed (because he might offend someone or is considered religious) I laugh. There is nothing religious about Santa Claus. Replacing him with Frosty the Snowman (a character created for an animation) does nothing but shift images with no connection to the importance of the holiday. Which is also why you rarely see images of Santa Claus inside Christian churches. You are more likely to see a rendition of Saint Nicholas as a bishop or illustrations of him handing out gifts to children while wearing his holy office. If there is one good thing to Santa Claus is that we can have Saint Nicholas stand apart. He was a genuinely good man who cared about children and those being harshly treated (he suffered for his faith by being imprisoned). He reflected his faith in Jesus in how he lived. Remembering and honoring the real Saint Nicholas means looking towards the real meaning of Christmas rather than a fairy-tale creation called Santa Claus.

Various Christmas Thoughts
-The Hallmark Channel’s The Christmas Card is destined to become a Christmas classic. A soldier in Afghanistan gets a Christmas card from young woman in a small mountain town in Northern California. While on leave he visits the town and meets the woman and family. In short he falls in love with her but there is a complication: she is engaged. Ed Asner plays the father and one of his best roles in recent years. Rent or buy it: you will like it!

-Dogs with antlers: bad idea!

-I like “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” How many Christmas themed songs have a verse like this: “They should never give a license to a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves.” On the other hand I can do without the Chipmunk Song. Always gets on my nerves.

-I used to get a tabletop Christmas tree from LL Bean. But last year they dropped their supplier and did not have any. I got one from another source (the one that used to supply LL Bean) but this year decided to not get one. The reason? Cost. These decoratives, which are balsam tree parts attached to foam cores, look nice but are very pricey. Shipping is sometimes extra depending upon the source. A step up from a artificial tabletop but a more expensive one. Checking around the area I found that small natural tabletop trees (sans decorations) were available for considerably less. And they are in much better condition than the balsam decorative that often arrives with many needles less than when it began the journey

-Fruitcakes are disliked in this country because the mass produced varieties are terrible. Alton Brown demonstrated on his show Good Eats how to make one yourself and the key is good ingredients. Bad ingredients=bad fruitcake no matter how much booze you add to it. But you can buy good fruitcakes by seeking out good bakers. Some of the best fruitcakes are made by religious orders. The Mondo Fruitcake blog rates many of them. I get a fruitcake every year from the Assumption Abbey in Missouri and never disappointed. Give real fruitcake a chance and taste one of the recommended ones at the blog. But avoid the mass produced ones at all costs. They are almost always overly sweet, rely on cheap ingredients, and truly are doorstops.

Well that wraps it up for this Christmas. I wish everyone here a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2011.

Titanic Musings: The Day After The Great Bird Feast

Another year, another Thanksgiving. This year some retailers decided to open to get early shoppers in. They hope to cash in on the pre-Black Friday crush that is often the case. Out here in the San Francisco Bay Area, a cold blast from the north has sent temps down to freezing in some places. It is cold enough that produce growers have to work covering plants to prevent frost from ruining the citrus crop. Many though decided to brave the very cold temperatures to camp outside of stores that open early in Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). People were camped outside the local Target store for two days so that when it opened at 4 a.m. this morning, they would be one of the first inside.

Of course the local media was excited. They rolled out with their vans and cameras to show people at home the spectacle of grown men and women choosing to sleep outside a store to be the first inside when it opens. Stores are not displeased hoping the attention will bolster sales. Some even handed out store maps so that shoppers will know exactly where to go when the doors open. Sometimes it does get out of hand. A jerk tries to sneak ahead causing tensions and even a minor altercation. Or worse, someone brandishes a weapon threatening anyone who gets in their way.

Turkey is the center of a Thanksgiving feast. Long ago these flightless birds roamed around in flocks and had to be hunted. Now you just go to the grocery store and decide fresh or frozen. Or organic and free range. Heritage turkeys are being bred and available either online or through speciality retail stores. Those birds cost more and can be less fatty than their cousins in the store. When I was a kid, most people roasted their birds using butter, herbs and other seasonings. Getting a moist bird was an art but today brining has become the preferred method. This presoaking allows the turkey to retain moisture as it cooks allowing for a moist and tender bird.

Another fad is frying the whole turkey. This is popular in the south but requires lots of preparation and care. It requires a large container full of hot oil (usually peanut or vegetable). You cannot do this indoors, on a balcony or fire escape. Too many people have tried it resulting in fire departments coming out to put out fires. You must do this outdoors and away from any structure. And never ever think of putting a frozen bird into the hot oil! The results are explosive and life threatening. And you have to set up a system of lowering the bird in and out of the oil to avoid oil splattering out of the pot. Is it worth it? Many say yes but I have heard people complain kosher birds do not come out as well. Since you cannot brine a kosher bird (it already is salted) it may not be as tender as a bird brined before frying.

Mashed potatoes are a favorite. The trick is getting them light and fluffy. America’s Test Kitchen believes Yukon Gold potatoes are the best to use for this. After trying both Russets and Yukons, they are right on. For light and fluffy, put down the hand masher and either use a hand ricer or food mill. I use a food mill and the results are terrific. Warm not hot milk (you choose the type but half and half is decent but for out of this world use heavy cream) and melted unsalted butter are then added. For those practicing Kosher, warm turkey or chicken broth (or stock if you have it). Then lightly fold it all in and taste for seasoning (usually salt and pepper). I sometimes add a scallion and prepared horseradish for extra zing.

While enjoying the turkey feast with all the trimmings, I remarked how back in the days of Titanic this would at least a seven course meal. Perhaps even more depending on the restaurant and its clientele. You would have the appetizer, salad, several meats, breads and sauces, a palate cleanser, followed by fruits, cheeses and sweet desert items (with coffee or tea). You can only imagine the food nannies going crazy if this was done today. They would go ballistic with the fat, calories, and decadence of it all. I wonder sometimes if the food nannies were deprived as children since they often dislike so many popular foods! 🙂

One tradition after dinner, and usually with dessert, is watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Every year I watch this show and always enjoy it. We learn the meaning of Thanksgiving and also forgiveness as well. Charlie Brown has to come up with a quick Thanksgiving meal. Thanks to Linus, Snoopy, and that strange bird, they come up with one with toast, popcorn, and pretzels. Patty gets angry but later apologizes when she realizes she imposed on Charlie to come up with a meal. It all works out in the end since Charlie’s grandmother invites them all to her home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, the Christmas season is right around the corner. Already the music is in the air and decorations are going up. Children are getting excited in many parts of Europe. The feast of St. Nicholas is coming up (6 December) and he brings good kids presents heralding in the official start of Christmas season. Time to get the pans out and make Christmas favorites for the holidays. And prepare for some happy times ahead.