Advent Fasts and Feasts

this page:
Fasts and Feasts
of Advent
see also :

Advent candle

A Season
of Preparation

Advent Wreath:
Prayers - Customs

Meditations for
Each Week

About St. Nicholas


Christmas tree


Prayers and Customs

Prayers for
the Home

Prayers for
the New Year

Prayers for
the Family

Feast of
the Epiphany

Site Introduction

  By Mary Ann Castronovo Fusco
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Sweet Treats for St. Nicholas

St Nicholas and ChildrenSpacerThe model for the secular Santa Claus was St. Nicholas, a bishop who was born in Asia Minor in 260, he was appointed Bishop of Myra. Persecuted under the Emperor Diocletian, he was later freed from imprisonment by Constantine.

SpacerJust as the legendary Santa Claus is renown for his love of children, there are various stories of Nicholas's kindness to the young and less fortunate. According to one story, he tossed a bag of coins through the window of a man who couldn't provide dowries for his three daughters, saving them from a shameful fate; another has him resuscitating three children killed by an evil innkeeper; in another he safely guides storm-tossed sailors off the coast of Lycia to shore. And so, he is often represented with three gold coins or a bag of coins, children, a ship, or a bishop's miter.[right: Saint Nicholas, a favorite of children]

SpacerPatron of the Italian seaport of Bari, where his remains are housed, St. Nicholas is particularly revered in the Netherlands, where his feast day, December 6, is when children receive their Christmas gifts. In honor of the saint, the Dutch bake speculaas, spicy cookies of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and ginger, molded into shapes relevant to his life. Popular also in Belgium (where they're called speculoos) and Germany (where they're known as Speculatius), their name "derives from the word for mirror and refers to the fact that the cookie ‘mirrors' its mold," explained Nick Malgieri in Cookies Unlimited (HarperCollins, 2000).

SpacerHis book includes a recipe for another St. Nicholas cookie given to him by Irene Berzinac, a cooking instructor at the Kitchen Shoppe in Carlisle, PA. She, in turn, got the recipe from her late mother-in-law, Irene Berzinac, who was originally from Budapest and married to a former Russian Orthodox priest who was taken into the Byzantine Catholic church as a priest after World War II. As the wife of a priest, it was her duty to entertain. "She started her Christmas cookies around mid-December and she baked almost every day," recalled Berzinac

Spacer"Generally throughout the world, festive occasions are often commemorated with cookies. That tradition of cookies dates back to a time when sugar, nuts, and spices were rare ingredients and reserved for exalted circumstances," said Rev. Canon Judy Rois, vicar of the Anglican Cathedral Church of St. James in Toronto, who lectures on Advent traditions. Some of the most popular traditional Christmas cookies, such as springerle, pfeffernüesse, and gingerbread, fall into this category, and the recipes for them are lovingly passed on through the generations, although the meanings associated with them sometimes are lost along the way. "The massive amounts of baking done in Norway, which is where my family is from, included seven different kinds of cookies that symbolize the seven joys of Mary: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Epiphany, the Presentation, the finding of Jesus in the temple, and the Assumption," said Rev. Rois.

Piazza di SpagnaHonoring the Role of the Madonna at Advent

SpacerIn Rome, the Christmas season begins early in Advent, on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, when garlands of flowers are draped around the statue of the Madonna in the city's Piazza di Spagna. On the eve of the feast, in Bagheria, Sicily, it is customary to bake the season's first sfinciuni, a type of pizza eaten at Christmas, New Year's, and the feast of the Three Kings. The ingredients for the savory treat are simple and available to most: flour, sheep's milk cheese, olive oil, sardines, scallions, crumbs of leftover bread. The tradition of making sfinciuni "per la Madonna"—for the Madonna, that is, in honor of her—has been transplanted to immigrant communities around the globe. [Piazza at right]

SpacerIn Ireland, December 8 is known as "Mairgead Mor," the "Big Fair Day," said Margaret Johnson, author of The New Irish Table (Chronicle, 2003). In days gone by, villagers would go to the town square to trade their livestock for holiday gifts on this day. "In modern Ireland, it's the biggest shopping day of the year," said Johnson, comparable to the day after Thanksgiving in the United States. "In most of western Europe, particularly in areas associated with the ancient Celts, December 8 was more associated with the celebration of the winter solstice," she added. That day is significant because it was the shortest day of the year, when darkness reigned.

SpacerIt would be followed, however, by days of ever-increasing daylight, a phenomenon marked by various cultures in various ways. In the Jewish tradition, Hanukkah, the festival of lights, falls at this time. In the Christian tradition, many people celebrate the feast of another beloved saint, whose very name comes from the Latin word for "light."

Sweetness and Light for Saint Lucy

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