Oct 142018
 

Today is the birthday (1906) of Johanna “Hannah” Cohn Arendt, a German-born philosopher and political theorist. Her many books and articles on topics ranging from totalitarianism to epistemology have had a lasting influence on political theory. Arendt is counted among the most important political philosophers of the 20th century. Arendt was born in Hanover, but largely raised in Königsberg in a secular merchant Jewish culture to parents who were supporters of the Social Democrats. Her father died when she was 7, so she was raised by her mother and grandfather. After completing her secondary education, she studied at the University of Marburg under Martin Heidegger, with whom she had a brief affair, but who had a lasting influence on her thinking. She obtained her doctorate in philosophy in 1929 at the University of Heidelberg with Karl Jaspers.

Arendt married Günther Stern in 1929, but soon began to encounter increasing antisemitism in 1930s Germany. Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, and while researching antisemitic propaganda for the Zionist Federation of Germany in Berlin that year, Arendt was denounced and briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo. On release, she fled Germany, living in Czechoslovakia and Switzerland before settling in Paris. There she worked for Youth Aliyah, assisting young Jews to emigrate to Palestine. Divorcing Stern in 1937, she married Heinrich Blücher in 1940, but when Germany invaded France in 1940 she was detained by the French as an alien, despite having been stripped of her German citizenship in 1937. She escaped and made her way to the United States in 1941 via Portugal.

She settled in New York, which remained her principal residence for the rest of her life. She became a writer and editor and worked for the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, becoming an American citizen in 1950. With the appearance of The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951, her reputation as a thinker and writer was established and a series of seminal works followed. These included The Human Condition in 1958, and both Eichmann in Jerusalem and On Revolution in 1963. She taught at many American universities, while declining tenure-track appointments. She died suddenly from a heart attack in 1975, at the age of 69, leaving her last work, The Life of the Mind, unfinished.

Her works cover a broad range of topics, but she is best known for those dealing with the nature of power and evil, as well as politics, direct democracy, authority, and totalitarianism. In the popular mind she is best remembered for the controversy surrounding the trial of Adolf Eichmann, her attempt to explain how ordinary people become active supporters of totalitarian systems, and for the phrase “the banality of evil”. She is commemorated by institutions and journals devoted to her thinking, the Hannah Arendt Prize for political thinking, and on stamps, street names and schools, amongst other things.

Here is a sampling of her writing, all of which is poignant and right on target:

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.

The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.

The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.

There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking itself is dangerous.

Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.

The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.

The third world is not a reality, but an ideology.

No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes.

I have given well-known Königsberg recipes before, including for Königsberger Klopse here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/immanuel-kant/  Now I will switch gears and talk about Königsberg marzipan, a confection that was traditionally produced in the German city of Königsberg, but not now that it is the Russian city of Kaliningrad. Königsberg’s first marzipan production was established by the Pomatti brothers in 1809, who became confectioners of the Royal Prussian Court. They were joined by Sterkau, Petschliess, Liedtke, Siegel, Steiner, Gehlhaar, Plouda in Kneiphof, as well as Wald in Berlin and Schwermer in Bad Wörishofen.  Königsberg marzipan is known for its flamed surface, which results in a golden-brown finish. It contains rose water and is often filled with jam. These characteristics distinguish it from the more common Lübeck Marzipan, which also frequently comes in more elaborate forms. First a video – apologies for the German, but it’s not hard to understand:

Now that you have the idea, you might want to try to replicate these dainties. They are not hard to make, just time consuming. Marzipan is not difficult to make from scratch, but I often buy it readymade.

Königsberger Marzipan

Ingredients

500 gm marzipan
350 gm powdered sugar
2 egg whites
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp kirsch
1 tbsp rosewater
2 tbsp water
maraschino cherries and candied lemon peel

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 220°C/430°F.

In a bowl, knead the marzipan with 200 grams (approximately 1 cup) of the powdered sugar into a smooth dough.

On a baking board, roll the dough to 1 cm (approximately ¼ inch) thick. Cut out small shapes like hearts or circles. Cut narrow strips from the remaining dough.

Whisk the egg whites in a bowl. Whisk the egg yolk in a separate bowl. Brush the strips with the egg white and lay on the outsides of the shapes like a border. Use knitting needles or wooden skewers to indent notches into the border. Brush the edges with the egg yolk. Place the marzipan hearts and circles on a baking sheet and bake on the top shelf until starting to brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

To decorate: in a bowl, stir the remaining powdered sugar with the kirsch, rosewater, and water until smooth. Brush into the centers of the hearts and circles. Cut the cherries and lemon peel into small pieces. Decorate the marzipan cakes with the cherries and lemon peel.

Dec 282015
 

hi3

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, nowadays a minor holiday within the Christmas season, but at one time of greater significance. The story of the Massacre of the Innocents is found in Matthew 2:16–18, although the preceding verses form the context:

When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

The massacre is not reported outside of the Gospel of Matthew and other later Christian writings based on that gospel. The Roman Jewish historian, Josephus, does not mention it in his history, Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94 AD), which reports many of Herod’s misdeeds, including murdering his own sons.

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The story’s first appearance in any source other than the Gospel of Matthew is in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James of c.150, which excludes the Flight into Egypt and switches the attention of the story to the infant John the Baptist:

And when Herod knew that he had been mocked by the Magi, in a rage he sent murderers, saying to them: Slay the children from two years old and under. And Mary, having heard that the children were being killed, was afraid, and took the infant and swaddled Him, and put Him into an ox-stall. And Elizabeth, having heard that they were searching for John, took him and went up into the hill-country, and kept looking where to conceal him. And there was no place of concealment. And Elizabeth, groaning with a loud voice, says: O mountain of God, receive mother and child. And immediately the mountain was cleft, and received her. And a light shone about them, for an angel of the Lord was with them, watching over them.

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The first non-Christian reference to the massacre is recorded four centuries later by Macrobius (c. 395-423), who writes in his Saturnalia:

When he [emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered killed, his own son was also killed, he said: it is better to be Herod’s pig, than his son.

I have not the slightest doubt that Matthew’s account is pious fiction. To accept it would mean accepting that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which I have already thrown into serious doubt, and that magi journeyed from the east following a star, stopped by Herod’s palace, then went on to Bethlehem where they instantly recognized the messiah. This “event” is not attested in any other historical source. It’s clearly a polemic to buttress prophesy which in this case is not about the messiah at all.

The story assumed an important place in later Christian tradition; Byzantine liturgy estimated 14,000 Holy Innocents while an early Syrian list of saints puts the number at 64,000. Coptic sources raise the number to 144,000 and place the event on 29 December. If you are into this kind of thing – estimating numbers for something that never happened – contemporary archeology sets the number of inhabitants of Bethlehem at the time at around 1,000 meaning that the number of children killed would have been no more than 20.

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While we are on the subject of historicity, why did Mary and Joseph head to Egypt (except to satisfy Matthew’s need for symbolism)? Surely they would have been just as safe in Galilee, returning like others after the census (as Luke recounts in Luke 2:39). Did Jews make a habit of running to Egypt when things looked dodgy in Israel? How did they support themselves? Who took them in? Did anyone in Egypt speak Aramaic or did they have to learn a new language? The whole story is not credible.

The “Coventry Carol” is a Christmas carol dating from the 16th century. The carol was performed in Coventry in England as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of Matthew. This haunting carol represent a mother’s lament for her doomed child. It is the only carol that has survived from this play. The author is unknown. The oldest known text was written down by Robert Croo in 1534, and the oldest known printing of the melody dates from 1591. Here’s a version that is acceptable, but not great. Best I could find after a considerable search. Although the text is mournful, I find the tempo here too slow, and the setting feeble. It’s impossible, it seems, to find a contemporary musician capable of managing the free flowing measures (or lack of them), and wandering tonality. Short of that, I would prefer it be sung in unison, a capella, as it was in the 16th century. I’ve trained choirs to sing it that way in the past – fighting my music director most of the way.

In the Middle Ages, especially north of the Alps, Holy Innocents was a festival of inversion involving role reversal between children and adults such as teachers and priests, with boy bishops presiding over some church services. In some regions, such as medieval England and France, it was said to be an unlucky day, when no new project should be started.

In Spain, Hispanic America, and the Philippines, El Día de los Santos Inocentes is still a day for pranks, equivalent to April Fool’s Day in other countries. Pranks (bromas) are also known as inocentadas and their victims are called inocentes; alternatively, the pranksters are the “inocentes” and the victims should not be angry at them, since they could not have committed any sin. Media often give fake content or distort news as well. One of the more famous of these traditions is the annual “Els Enfarinats” festival of Ibi in Alacant, where the inocentadas dress up in full military dress and incite a flour and egg fight.

epa03519176 People enjoy the traditional 'Els Enfarinats' battle at Ibi in Alicante, eastern Spain, 28 December 2012. The battle has been held every year for over 200 years on the 28th of December, Holy Innocents' Day (the equivalent of April Fool's day in Spain), and it consists of a group of people, the 'Enfarinats', that take over the 'civil power' in a fight with eggs and flour.  EPA/MORELL

In parts of Spain it is customary to eat huesos de santos (saints’ bones), also commonly eaten on All Saints (Nov. 1). They are not difficult to make, but most people buy them. You can make them completely from scratch by making your own marzipan, but at minimum I buy the marzipan and simply make the filling. As illustrated here, you can dip the huesos in chocolate if you wish.

hi4

Huesos de Santos

Ingredients

½ lb (250 g) marzipan
2 oz (50 gr) granulated sugar
1 oz (25 ml) water
2 egg yolks

Instructions

I find that rolling marzipan works best on a marble board, but you can also use a regular pastry board or counter top. Dust the surface with powdered sugar and roll the marzipan out to about ¼ inch thick. Then cut it into 1 x 1½ inch rectangles. Make long tubes out of the rectangles by rolling them around the handle of a wooden spoon or similar rod that has been liberally dusted with powdered sugar. Press the long sides of the tube together and carefully ease it off the rod. This will take a few trial runs to do it so that you don’t deform the tube. If you mess up, re-roll and try again. Place the finished rolls on a tray and chill.

Beat the egg yolks in a bowl or top of a double boiler. Bring water in the bottom of the double boiler or deep saucepan to a gentle boil. In another pan bring the water and sugar to a boil to form a syrup. While whisking the yolks vigorously, pour the syrup into the eggs. Slow pouring and constant whisking are critical, otherwise you will scramble the eggs. Then, place the egg and syrup mixture over the boiling water and continue to stir it until it thickens substantially.

Let the yolk filling cool a little and, using a pastry bag, fill each marzipan tube from both ends.

Aug 082015
 

gk11

Today is the birthday (1646) of Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1st Baronet (born Gottfried Kniller), the leading portrait painter in England during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and court painter to English and British monarchs from Charles II to George I. I don’t care for Kneller’s portraits much (nor formal portraiture in general), but I think of him as iconic of the Restoration and early Georgian period. When I think of Newton, I think of Kneller’s portraits.

gknewton1  gknewton3

Kneller was born Gottfried Kniller in the Free City of Lübeck, the son of Zacharias Kniller, a portrait painter. Kneller studied in Leiden, but became a pupil of Ferdinand Bol and Rembrandt in Amsterdam. He then traveled with his brother John Zacharias Kneller, who was an ornamental painter, to Rome and Venice in the early 1670s, painting historical subjects and portraits in the studio of Carlo Maratti, and then later moved to Hamburg. They went to England in 1676, and won the patronage of the Duke of Monmouth. Subsequently, he was introduced to, and painted a portrait of, Charles II. In England, Kneller concentrated almost entirely on portraiture. He founded a studio which churned out portraits on an almost industrial scale, relying on a brief sketch of the face with details added to a formulaic model, aided by the fashion for gentlemen to wear full wigs. His assistants may have done much of the painting of fabrics and clothing leaving Kneller to paint the daces. His portrait style set a pattern that was followed down to William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds.

gkbeaut2  gkbeaut1

When Sir Peter Lely died in 1680, Kneller was appointed Principal Painter to the Crown by Charles II. In the 1690s, Kneller painted the “Hampton Court Beauties” depicting the supposedly most glamorous ladies-in-waiting of the Royal Court for which he received his knighthood from William III. He produced a series of “Kit-Cat” portraits of 48 leading politicians and men of letters, members of the Kit-Cat Club. Created a baronet by King George I on 24 May 1715, he was also head of the Kneller Academy of Painting and Drawing 1711-1716 in Great Queen Street, London, which counted such artists as Thomas Gibson amongst its founding directors. His paintings were praised by Whig luminaries such as John Dryden, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and Alexander Pope.

He married a widow, Susanna Grave, on 23 January 1704 at St Bride’s Church, London. She was the daughter of the Reverend John Cawley, Archdeacon of Lincoln and Rector of Henley-on-Thames, and the granddaughter of regicide William Cawley (he signed the death warrant for Charles I).

Memorial to Sir Godfrey Kneller, Westminster Abbey

Kneller died of fever in 1723 at Great Queen Street and his remains were interred at Twickenham. He had been a churchwarden at St Mary’s, Twickenham when the 14th-century nave collapsed in 1713 and was active in the plans for the church’s reconstruction by John James. A memorial was erected to him in Westminster Abbey.

Samuel Johnson related this tale:

As to thinking better or worse of mankind from experience, some cunning people will not be satisfied unless they have put men to the test, as they think. There is a very good story told of Sir Godfrey Kneller, in his character of a Justice of the peace. A gentleman brought his servant before him, upon an accusation of having stolen some money from him; but it having come out that he had laid it purposely in the servant’s way, in order to try his honesty, Sir Godfrey sent the master to prison.

gkmarz4

Kneller’s home town of Lübeck is famous for its marzipan industry. According to local legend, marzipan was first made in Lübeck, in response either to a military siege of the city or a famine year. The story, certainly apocryphal, is that the town ran out of all food except stored almonds and sugar, which were used to make loaves of marzipan “bread.” It is generally believed that marzipan was actually invented in Persia a few hundred years before Lübeck claims to have invented it although there are conflicting claims as to its origin and spread in Europe. Nonetheless, Lübeck marzipan is of a very high quality and rightly famous.

My wife and I always made marzipan at Christmas for marzipan fruits and for our Christmas cake. You can buy good marzipan fairly easily, but it is cheaper to make it yourself. All it takes is some egg whites, blanched almonds and confectioners’ sugar.

Marzipan    

Ingredients

3 egg whites
8 oz blanched almonds
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp almond extract (optional)

Instructions

Put the almonds in a food processor and pulse until you have a grainy powder, but not so long that the oil separates.

In a bowl beat the egg whites lightly and then add the egg whites and sugar. Knead, either by hand or with a dough hook in a mixer until the marzipan is very smooth.

Wrap in plastic wrap and foil. It will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely. Warm to room temperature before using.

Yield: about 1 lb.

Marzipan can be used in a host of ways including making all manner of imitation fruits, flowers, and animals, as well as covering or filling cakes. Here’s a little gallery of ideas.

gkmarz8 gkmarz7 gkmarz6 gkmarz5 gkmarz3 gkmarz2

. . . and one spooky marzipan baby . . .

gkmarz1

Dec 062013
 

nick3

Today is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, also called Nikolaos of Myra, 4th-century bishop of Myra (now Demre, part of modern-day Turkey) in Lycia. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos.” In 1087, part of his relics (about half of the bones) were furtively translated to Bari, in southeastern Italy. For this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari.

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The remaining bones were taken to Venice in 1100.

Nick_al_Lido_1

The historical Saint Nicholas is commemorated and revered among Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians. In addition, some Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches have been named in honor of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, children, pawnbrokers, and students in various cities and countries around Europe. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari.

St Nicholas cathedral, Prague

St Nicholas cathedral, Prague

Nicholas was born a Greek in Asia Minor during the third century in the city of Patara (Lycia et Pamphylia), which was a port on the Mediterranean Sea, and lived in Myra, Lycia (part of modern-day Demre, Turkey), at a time when the region was Greek in its heritage, culture, and outlook, and politically part of the Roman diocese of Asia. He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents named Epiphanius  and Johanna  according to some accounts, and Theophanes and Nonna according to others. He was very devout from an early age and according to legend, was said to have rigorously observed the canonical fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays (some say he would not breastfeed on those days). His parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young and he was raised by his uncle—also named Nicholas—who was the bishop of Patara. He tonsured the young Nicholas as a reader and later ordained him a presbyter (priest).

In 325, he was one of many bishops to answer the request of emperor Constantine to appear at the First Council of Nicaea. Nicolas was a staunch anti-Arian and defender of the orthodox Christian position, and one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed. Arius had argued that God the Son was a creation of God the Father and was subordinate to him, whereas the orthodox position was that Father and Son were co-equal and co-eternal.  The main order of business of the First Council of Nicaea was to condemn Arius and Arianism.  Folklore has it that at one point Nicholas was so furious with Arius that he boxed his ear.

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A number of miracles are associated with Nicholas. One legend tells how during a terrible famine, a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, where he killed them, placing their remains in a barrel to salt, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher’s horrific crime but also resurrected the three boys from the barrel by his prayers. Another version of this story, possibly formed around the eleventh century, claims that the butcher’s victims were instead three clerks who wished to stay the night. The man murdered them, and was advised by his wife to dispose of them by turning them into meat pies. The Saint saw through this and brought the men back to life.

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In his most famous exploit, one which many historians believe is rooted in Nicholas’ famed charity, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the girls’ plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.

about 1555-60

One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throwing the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters came of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man’s plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking, hence the tradition of hanging stockings up on Christmas Eve, and of Santa Claus coming down the chimney.  It is also customary in many countries to give children little bags of chocolate coins wrapped in gold colored foil on St Nicholas. In my family, as a small boy, I got gold/chocolate coins in my stocking on Christmas Day.

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During a great famine that Myra experienced in 311–312, a ship was in the port at anchor, which was loaded with wheat for the Emperor in Constantinople. Nicholas invited the sailors to unload a part of the wheat to help in time of need. The sailors at first disliked the request, because the wheat had to be weighed accurately and delivered to the Emperor. Only when Nicholas promised them that they would not suffer any loss for their consideration, the sailors agreed. When they arrived later in Constantinople, they made a surprising find: the weight of the load had not changed, although the wheat removed in Myra was enough for two full years and could even be used for sowing.

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Whereas the devotional importance of relics and the economics associated with pilgrimages caused the remains of most saints to be divided up and spread over numerous churches in several countries, St. Nicholas is unusual in that most of his bones have been preserved in one spot: his grave crypt in Bari (where his bones were taken in the 11th century when Myra was captured by Turks). The archdiocese of Bari has allowed for one scientific survey of the bones. In the late 1950s, during a restoration of the chapel, it allowed a team of hand-picked scientists to photograph and measure the contents of the crypt grave. In the summer of 2005, the report of these measurements was sent to a forensic laboratory in England. The review of the data revealed that the historical St. Nicholas was barely five feet in height and had a broken nose.  From what I have read, there is very little reason to doubt that these are the actual bones of St Nicholas. This is a modern computer generated reconstruction of his facial features based on his skull.

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Among  Greeks and Italians he is a favorite of sailors, fishermen, ships, and sailing (owing to the miracle of the wheat). As such he has become, over time, the patron saint of several cities maintaining harbors. In modern Greece, he is still easily among the most recognizable saints, and on 6 December many cities celebrate their patron saint with masses, processions, and fairs. He is also the patron saint of all of Greece and particularly of the Greek Navy.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Nicholas’ memory is celebrated on almost every Thursday of the year (together with the Apostles) with special hymns to him which are found in the liturgical book known as the Octoechos. As well as in Greece, Nicholas is venerated in Russia with icons and special devotional prayers and liturgies.  Many Russian Orthodox churches will have his icon, even if they are not named after him. In fact, I have visited many churches and cathedrals in Russia and have yet to find one that does not have an icon of Nicholas.

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In late medieval England, on Saint Nicholas’ Day parishes held Yuletide “boy bishop” celebrations. As part of this celebration, youths performed the functions of priests and bishops, and exercised rule over their elders. This custom has been revived in some English cathedrals in modern times.

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Today, Saint Nicholas is still celebrated as a great gift-giver in several Western European countries. In medieval times nuns used the night of 6 December to deposit baskets of food and clothes anonymously at the doorsteps of the needy. At one time on 6 December sailors or ex-sailors of the Low Countries (which was virtually all of the male population) would descend to the harbor towns to participate in a church celebration for their patron saint. On the way back they would stop at one of the various Nicholas fairs to buy some hard-to-come-by goods, gifts for their loved ones, and invariably some little presents for their children. Hence the feast of St Nicholas was the main day of gift giving of the Christmas season.

Saint Nicholas is a popular subject portrayed in countless Eastern Orthodox icons, particularly Russian ones. He is depicted as an Orthodox bishop, wearing the omophorion (a band of brocade decorated with four crosses and an eight-pointed star, worn about the neck and shoulders) and holding a Gospel Book. Sometimes he is depicted wearing the Eastern Orthodox mitre, sometimes he is bareheaded. Nicholas is depicted as an elderly man with a short, full white beard and balding head. In commemoration of the miracle attributed to him by tradition at the Ecumenical Council of Nicea, he is sometimes depicted with Christ over his left shoulder holding out a Gospel Book to him and the Theotokos over his right shoulder holding the omophorion. Because of his patronage of mariners, occasionally Saint Nicholas will be shown standing in a boat or rescuing a drowning sailor.

nick11

In Roman Catholic iconography, Saint Nicholas is depicted as a bishop, wearing the insignia of this office: a bishop’s vestments, a miter and a crozier. The episode with the three dowries is commemorated by showing him holding in his hand either three purses, three coins or three balls of gold. Depending on whether he is depicted as patron saint of children or sailors, his images will be completed by a background showing ships, children or three figures climbing out of a wooden barrel (the three slaughtered children he resurrected).

In many western icons his vestments are episcopal red, occasionally trimmed with fur, so it is easy to see how with his white beard, his image was translated into that of Santa Claus. But it is important to remember that behind all the modern nonsense and hoopla surrounding Santa there is a real, live, flesh and blood man, noted for his generosity and kindness.

Sinterklaas

I must say I prefer Sinterklaas to what Santa has evolved into:

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There are endless recipes from around the world to celebrate St Nicholas Day.  This site gives a fair number, although not all of them are traditional.

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/recipes/

Sweet things are the most common, but there are also some soups and main dishes that are traditional for this day.  It is said that the red and white candy cane symbolizes Nicholas’ bishop’s crozier.  Marzipan is a common treat this day, as well.  My wife and I always used to color marzipan, which we made from scratch, and then shaped it into fruits. I do not have any photos with me from those days. Here is an image taken from this site which is very detailed in its descriptions of making marzipan fruits:

http://thestandardoftaste.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/christmas-recipe-4-how-to-make-marzipan-fruit/

nick4

Here’s a recipe for marzipan for diehards.  Of course you can also buy it ready made.

Marzipan 

Ingredients:

2 cups granulated sugar
? tsp cream of tartar
4 cups ground almonds (or almond meal made in a food processor from blanched almonds)
2 egg whites
powdered sugar for dusting

Instructions:

Prepare a workspace by sprinkling powdered sugar over a marble slab (best), wooden cutting board, or large baking sheet. Fill your sink or a large bowl with cold water.

Place the sugar and ? cup of water in a large heavy saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sugar dissolves.

Add the cream of tartar and turn up the heat. Bring to a boil and cover, boiling, for 3 minutes.

Uncover and boil until the temperature reaches soft-ball stage, 240°F/115°C on a candy thermometer.

Immediately place the bottom of the saucepan in the cold water you have prepared, stirring the sugar mixture constantly until it becomes thick and creamy.

Stir in the ground almonds and the egg whites. Place the saucepan back over low heat and stir for 2 minutes more until the mixture is thick.

Spoon the marzipan on to your prepared work surface, and turn it with a metal spatula until it cools down enough to touch.

Coat your hands in powdered sugar and begin to knead the marzipan, working it until it is smooth and pliant.

The marzipan can be used immediately or stored by wrapping it in plastic wrap and keeping it in an airtight container.