Sweet Saint Nicholas
The Holland Museum
31 West 10th Street, Holland, Michigan
22 November 2003–January 2004
Saint Nicholas’ feast always has delicious sweet treats. Cookie boards, chocolate molds, candy containers, and other tasty food-related delights featured in the fourth St. Nicholas Center exhibit at the Holland Museum. Candy, cookies, molds, and more from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic were included. School children decorated Dutch speculaas cookies for the Sweet Saint Nicholas tree. Felt “St. Nicholas cookies,” small metal molds, and marzipan fruit completed the tree decorations.
Saint Nicholas—the real Santa Claus— was born about AD 280 in Patara, a coastal town in what is now Turkey. He became known far and wide for his generosity to the poor, love for children, actions for justice, and a special association with the sea, ships and sailors. He served as Bishop of Myra, near his hometown. His many acts of compassion and mercy led people to revere him as protector and helper for those in need.
One story tells of a poor man who had three unmarried daughters. They were to be sold into slavery because there was no dowry money, which was needed for marriage. After learning of this, Nicholas secretly threw a small pouch of gold into the house so the father could provide a dowry for the eldest. He did this again two more times–once for each daughter. Some say the gold landed in stockings drying before the fire, others that it landed in shoes, which is why some children hang up stockings for gifts and others put out shoes.
Delicious sweets—both candies and cookies—have come to be an important part of the Saint Nicholas festival throughout Europe. These cookie and candy molds and related objects illustrate this tasty side of the celebration.
As stories and legends of good St. Nicholas spread throughout the world, he became one of the most popular saints. The gift-giver in much of Europe, he still visits children during Advent on his feast day, December 6. Europeans brought Nicholas to the New World where he was transformed into “Santa Claus.” By his generosity to the needy and his concern for all who have been wronged, St. Nicholas lives on as a model for the compassionate life.