Monday, December 3, 2012

St. Nicholas Naacht 2012

I wish this was me, isn't she sweet (google image)
St. Nicholas Naacht is in two days, December 5th, and I just realized I don't have a desert planned. I've looked in my Dutch cookbook, 'Let's Go Dutch; A National Best Seller' by Johanna (van der Zeijst) Bates. There is an entire chapter devoted to St. Nicholas Naact with 90% of all the recipes involving large quantities of sugar and spices. I'm not sure what people served for the main course, it appears to be candies.

The opening sentence reads...."No Dutch Feast of St. Nicholas is complete unless Marzipan is present and the more the better." This is followed by

Spice Dolls, Apple Balls, Peppernuts, Sweet Pastry Letter, Christmas Log, and then we finally reach Braised Rabbit. Probably rabbit is a favourite because it has no nutritional value whatsoever and in fact, consumes calories instead of adding them. For a vegetable there are Chestnuts in Sweet Wine, followed by Christmas Fudge and Gin Balls.

At this point in the meal, St. Nicholas and Black Peter enter the room, the kids line up and either receive some candies or some coal.

The worst child of all is taken away in a sack by St. Nicholas's black servant and is beaten with a stick. Everyone then (probably throws up from excitement) goes to bed and wakens to a shoe full of candies and oranges and nuts.

The true St. Nicholas was born in Turkey around 270 AD and became the patron saint of sailors, thieves, pawnbrokers and children. St. Nicholas liked to wander around at nighttime, leaving gifts in stockings. In order to receive a gift, a recipient must have been good all year, no last minute patching things up. "The recurring theme of the rewarding of goodness and the punishment of bad behaviour is perpetuated in what has become a great Christian feast."

Oh my god, this is rich. The Dutch penal system used to have as a reward/punishment system in the poorhouses a room where the punished persons had to walk on a treadmill to turn a mill stone. If they walked fast enough, the room didn't fill up with water and they didn't drown. So naturally, we symbolically beat the worst offending child once a year.

Then we eat sugar.

We have mutated St. Nicholas Naacht in this household (thankfully) and we make a nice meal with only one desert and some spice cookies. We exchange joke presents with each other, accompanied by a little poem to reveal what transgression or embarrassing event someone else had that we want to make fun of. Everyone goes to bed,

the wooden shoes (or normal shoes) come out mysteriously and St. Nic fills them with candy and a book. No one is beaten.

Although it has been a tough year for all four of us and fisticuffs might get rid of a few underlying tensions.

In view of the tough year just passing and hopefully coming to an end, we have decided to not give slightly offensive joke presents. Instead, each person has been challenged to create an autobiographical limeric that celebrates something about themselves.

The opening lines "There once was a mother from hell, who knew only how well to yell..." will not be considered celebratory. I now have to sit down with a pile of gin balls and think of something fun to say about myself.

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