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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: 09/28/12

Friday, September 28, 2012

ST. NICHOLAS AND THE ORIGINS OF SANTA CLAUS!!






    How did the kindly Christian saint, good Bishop Nicholas, become a roly-poly red-suited American symbol for merry holiday festivity and commercial activity?   History tells the tale.
    The first Europeans to arrive in the New World brought St. Nicholas. Vikings dedicated their cathedral to him in Greenland. On his first voyage, Columbus named a Haitian port for St. Nicholas on December 6, 1492. In Florida, Spaniards named an early settlement St. Nicholas Ferry, now known as Jacksonville. However, St. Nicholas had a difficult time during the 16th century Protestant Reformation which took a dim view of saints. Even though both reformers and counter-reformers tried to stamp out St. Nicholas-related customs, they had very little long-term success except in England where the religious folk traditions were permanently altered. (It is ironic that fervent Puritan Christians began what turned into a trend to a more secular Christmas observance.) Because the common people so loved St. Nicholas, he survived on the European continent as people continued to place nuts, apples, and sweets in shoes left beside beds, on windowsills, or before the hearth.









    The first Colonists, primarily Puritans and other Protestant reformers, did not bring Nicholas traditions to the New World. What about the Dutch? Although it is almost universally believed that the Dutch brought St. Nicholas to New Amsterdam, scholars find scant evidence of such traditions in Dutch New Netherland. Colonial Germans in Pennsylvania kept the feast of St. Nicholas, and several later accounts have St. Nicholas visiting New York Dutch on New Years' Eve (New Year gift-giving had become the English custom in 1558, supplanting Nicholas, and this English custom was still found in New York until 1847).
    In 1773 New York non-Dutch patriots formed the Sons of St. Nicholas, primarily as a non-British symbol to counter the English St. George societies, rather than to honor St. Nicholas. This society was similar to the Sons of St. Tammany in Philadelphia. Not exactly St. Nicholas, the children's gift-giver.
    After the American Revolution, New Yorkers remembered with pride their colony's nearly-forgotten Dutch roots. John Pintard, the influential patriot and antiquarian who founded the New York Historical Society in 1804, promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of both society and city. In January 1809, Washington Irving joined the society and on St. Nicholas Day that same year, he published the satirical fiction,











    Knickerbocker's History of New York, with numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character. This was not the saintly bishop, rather an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe. These delightful flights of imagination are the source of the New Amsterdam St. Nicholas legends: that the first Dutch emigrant ship had a figurehead of St. Nicholas: that St. Nicholas Day was observed in the colony; that the first church was dedicated to him; and that St. Nicholas comes down chimneys to bring gifts. Irving's work was regarded as the "first notable work of imagination in the New World."
    The New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner on December 6, 1810. John Pintard commissioned artist Alexander Anderson to create the first American image of Nicholas for the occasion. Nicholas was shown in a gift-giving role with children's treats in stockings hanging at a fireplace. The accompanying poem ends, "Saint Nicholas, my dear good friend! To serve you ever was my end, If you will, now, me something give, I'll serve you ever while I live."










    The 19th century was a time of cultural transition. New York writers, and others, wanted to domesticate the Christmas holiday. Christmas of old was not images of families gathered cozily around hearth and tree exchanging pretty gifts and singing carols while smiling benevolently at children. Rather, it was characterized by raucous, drunken mobs roaming streets, damaging property, threatening and frightening the upper classes. The holiday season, coming after harvest when work was eased and more leisure possible, was a time when workers and servants took the upper hand, demanding largess and more. At the same time a new understanding of family life and the place of children was also emerging. Childhood was coming to be seen as a stage of life in which greater protection, sheltering, training and education were needed. And so the season came to be tamed, turning toward shops and home. St. Nicholas, too, took on new attributes to fit the changing times.
    1821 brought some new elements with publication of the first lithographed book in America, the Children's Friend. This "Sante Claus" arrived from the North in a sleigh with a flying reindeer. The annonymous poem and illustrations proved pivital in shifting imagery away from a saintly bishop. Sante Claus fit a didactic mode, rewarding good cbehavior and punishing bad, leaving a "long, black birchen rod . . . directs a Parent's hand to use when virtue's path his sons refuse." Gifts were safe toys, "pretty doll . . . peg-top, or a ball; no crackers, cannons, squibs, or rockets to blow their eyes up, or their pockets. No drums to stun their Mother's ear, nor swords to make their sisters fear; but pretty books to store their mind with knowledge of each various kind." The sleigh itself even sported a bookshelf for the "pretty books." The book also notably marked S. Claus' first apperance on Christmas Eve, rather than December 6th.










    The jolly elf image received another big boost in 1823, from a poem destined to become immensely popular, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," now better known as "The Night Before Christmas."

    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. . . .

    Washington Irving's St. Nicholas strongly influenced the poem's portrayal of a round, pipe-smoking, elf-like St. Nicholas. The poem generally has been attributed to Clement Clark Moore, a professor of biblical languages at New York's Episcopal General Theological Seminary. However, a case has been made by Don Foster in Author










   Unknown, that Henry Livingston actually penned it in 1807 or 1808. Livingston was a farmer/patriot who wrote humorous verse for children. In any case, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" became a defining American holiday classic. No matter who wrote it, the poem has had enormous influence on the Americanization of St. Nicholas.
Other artists and writers continued the change to an elf-like St. Nicholas, "Sancte Claus," or "Santa Claus," unlike the stately European bishop. In 1863, during the Civil War, political cartoonist Thomas Nast began a series of annual black-and-white drawings in Harper's Weekly, based on the descriptions found in the poem and Washington Irving's work. These drawings established a rotund Santa with flowing beard, fur garments, and an omnipresent clay pipe. Nast's Santa supported the Union and President Lincoln believed this contributed to the Union troops' success by demoralizing Confederate soldiers. As Nast drew Santas until 1886, his work had considerable influence in forming the American Santa Claus. Along with appearance changes, the saint's name shifted to Santa Claus—a natural phonetic alteration from the German Sankt Niklaus.










    Santa was then portrayed by dozens of artists in a wide variety of styles, sizes, and colors. However by the end of the 1920s, a standard American Santa—life-sized in a red, fur-trimmed suit—had emerged from the work of N. C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and other popular illustrators. In 1931 Haddon Sundblom began thirty-five years of Coca-Cola Santa advertisements that popularized and firmly established this Santa as an icon of contemporary commercial culture.
    This Santa was life-sized, jolly, and wore the now familiar red suit. He appeared in magazines, on billboards, and shop counters, encouraging Americans to see Coke as the solution to "a thirst for all seasons." By the 1950s Santa was turning up everywhere as a benign source of beneficence, endorsing an amazing range of consumer products. This commercial success led to the North American Santa Claus being exported around the world where he threatens to overcome the European St. Nicholas, who has retained his identity as a Christian bishop and saint.










   It's been a long journey from the Fourth Century Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas, who showed his devotion to God in extraordinary kindness and generosity to those in need, to America's jolly Santa Claus, whose largesse often supplies luxuries to the affluent. However, if you peel back the accretions, he is still Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, whose caring surprises continue to model true giving and faithfulness.
    There is growing interest in reclaiming the original saint in the United States to help restore a spiritual dimension to this festive time. For indeed, St. Nicholas, lover of the poor and patron saint of children, is a model of how Christians are meant to live. A bishop, Nicholas put Jesus Christ at the center of his life, his ministry, his entire existence. Families, churches, and schools are embracing true St Nicholas traditions as one way to claim the true center of Christmas—the birth of Jesus. Such a focus helps restore balance to increasingly materialistic and stress-filled Advent and Christmas seasons.

CANY CORN MACAROONS WITH PUMPKIN SPICE FILLING

   This recipe comes from www.barbarabakes.com .   I truely unique take on candy corn.  These days, macaroons are all the rage too, give them a try.



Candy Corn Macaron




I got a little carried away at the store today. I had this idea to make candy corn macarons for this month’s MacTweets and I went to the store to buy candy corn to dress up the pictures. When I got there, they had ordinary candy corn of course, but this year Bach’s also had Caramel Candy Corn, and Chocolate Caramel Candy Corn, and Caramel Apple Candy Corn. All of which I decided I should take home and try.
But I didn’t stop there – no of course not. There were also candy cane flavored Dots and candy corn Kisses and I thought I should sampled those as well. (Let’s not talk about the two cute packages of Halloween Lindor Truffles that I bought and have hidden in my closet.)







The reason for my apparent current obsession with candy corn is that I hate them. I think they have a horrible, waxy flavor. My husband and my kids seem to like them, but I think they’re pretty nasty.
But I do sort of think of them fondly. They remind me of this time of year – cooler weather and yummy treats. Candy corn always seemed to be hanging around when you were bobbing for apples or eating pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. They look so cheery and fun and I really do want to like them.
So when I saw the orange pumpkin spice Kisses I thought they would make a perfect filing for a candy corn mac. A candy corn that would be full of fabulous fall flavor, not waxy and bland with an odd smell. Of course, I wanted to make the top white and the bottom yellow. I tried shaping one in the shape of a candy corn, but it looked more like an egg, so I stuck with round candy corn macs instead.







I made the Ottolenghi recipe that works well for me. I used half the batter for white and then added yellow to the other half. If I was making two colors again, I would make half a batch of each because the yellow got over mixed and spread much more than the white ones, making it hard to match them up.
I made the filling by melting about 10 Pumpkin Spice Kisses in the microwave at 50% power for about 1 minutes and adding enough powdered sugar to make a thick filling. This really is a perfect mac flavor for fall and so much better than candy corn candies.

Macarons 

Ingredients

110gm powdered sugar
60gm finely ground almond meal/flour
60gm egg whites (of 2 eggs)
40gm granulated sugar

Directions
Preheat oven to 310 degrees F
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready. (Setting the pastry bag in a glass while you fill the bag was a great tip I learned during this process.) (Also, I like to double stack the baking sheets.)
Combine the powdered sugar with the almond powder. (Pulse in a blender or food processor if you don’t have finely ground almond meal. A mini food processor works best for this if you have one.)
With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes. (To test to see if egg whites are ready, whip until the tip of the peak doesn’t fold over when you pull the beater out of the meringue.)
Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag. (You can put a spoonful on a plate to test it. If it slowly flattens out it’s perfect. If it runs, add a bit more almond flour/powdered sugar. If it just stays in a blob, give it a few more folds.)
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.
Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons. Leave out, uncovered for 15 minutes, then bake them for 15-20 minutes. Give the macs a gentle little shake with the tip of your finger to see if they’re done. You want them set but not firm. It’s better to undercook them.
Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.
Print Recipe
So you may be wondering what I thought of the other flavors of candy corn – waxy and nasty. Somehow the Kisses nailed the strange candy corn flavor in their Candy Corn Kisses, but at least it was smooth and creamy and not waxy. The Dots sort of captured the candy corn flavor but in a gummy sort of way.

THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN RAVENS AND CROWS!!


The Raven


The Crow







   Raven are the largest members of the crow family, so it's only natural that the two species look similarly.  Ravens are clearly spotted when they are next to crows by their sheer body size.  But ravens and crows do not always conveniently stand next to each other when a human observer is trying to identify them.  Then, the observer has to look at other features on the bird.





The Crow




   A Note On Species Differential
   There are several species of ravens, but the most familiar species is Corvus corax, or the common raven.  Unfortunately, this species is not so common now due to hunting and habitat loss.  Other species of ravens in the world do share similar characteristics, including a mostly black body.  There are raven species that have dark brown feathers or white marks on the back of their necks.  Also there are dozens of species of crows in the world.  Many of these species come in other colors, making it easy to distinguish them from ravens.  But sometimes, a species like the carrion crow  comes in an all-black sub-species.  Then, there are species like the American crow that are also all black, no matter what their age, sex or subspecies.

Beak Shape
   Crows have a basic long spear-like beak shape that's similar to many other species of songbirds.  Ravens have vastly different bill shapes than crows.  They almost seem grotesque in comparison.  If looking at the bill profile, it seems to curve upwards into a shape that bird watchers call "hooked".  One species in Africa, the thick-billed raven has a bill so large that it almost looks like a second head.
   Some species like the common raven and the Australian raven will also have feathers on the part of the bill closest to the head.  In comparison, a crow's bill will be feather-free.  Some species of crows will have a small but prominent hook at the very end of the top half of the beak.  In the thick-billed raven, this tip is white while the rest of the beak is black,  however you have to get pretty close in order to see that.





The Raven




Tail Shape
   The only way to see the tail shape of the bird properly is to see the bird in flight.  Since it flies by so fast, just look at the basic shape the silhouette of the tail creates.  In many all-black crow species, this tail shape is triangular.  But in ravens, the shape is usually more like a wedge.

Attitude
   Although individual birds vary, in general ravens are much shyer than crows.  However, juvenile ravens have often been observed behaving as bold as crows while their elders admonish them from their hiding places.