Today is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, an early Christian Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor during the time of the Roman Empire. Of Greek descent, he also is known as “Nikolaos of Myra.” He was born of wealthy parents who brought him up as a devout Christian. When his parents died, Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He was consecrated a bishop while still a young man.
Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, particularly for presenting dowries to three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian family. From these legends evolved the tradition of surprising children with gifts, either on his Feast Day, December 6th, or on Christmas Eve.
If this venerable old bishop of the early Church were alive today, he conceivably might look something like this man:
Why are only two candles lit on this Advent wreath? Those two lit candles indicate that today is the second Sunday in the Advent season, the (roughly) four-week prelude to Christmas. During this period we prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ Child, as well as the coming of the Lord at the end of time.
Observances such as the lighting of one additional candle each Sunday introduces a sense of holiness into an otherwise hectic season. I have decided that, in my 80s, I will refuse to get all caught up in the secular rush to “get everything done” before my neighbors. That’s just plain silly, especially when the house behind ours put up their outside lights before Thanksgiving! And two houses down the street have littered the front lawn with plastic balloon ornaments that the first winter storm will scatter over other people’s lawns.
Instead, I place electric candles in all my windows during this season — and leave them up until Epiphany. Watch for another story about this lovely tradition.
Coming right on the heels of Thanksgiving, that first Sunday of Advent catches me by surprise. Oh, I already have the four purple candles and plans to snip pieces of mugo pine from the front garden, but the table remains decorated for late fall.
Fall shorted out before my heart was ready. It’s my favorite time of year, full of memories of Thanksgivings past — brilliant colors of birches and dogwoods and maples, rich scents of savory feasts and pecan pies cooling on the counter, laughter of children’s voices, and football on the library telly. It’s not even the 30th of November, St. Andrew’s Day, in my mind synonymous with “Stir-Up Sunday” when we make up the fruitcake batter and recite the old Anglican collect:
“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of they faithful people, that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by these be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (1549 Book of Common Prayer for the Sunday before Advent)
This prayer read at Sunday worship services would remind cooks that it was time to begin stirring up not only their hearts but also the batter for Christmas cakes and puddings, to be ready in time for Christmas.
So, already I’m a week late but that’s not entirely my fault. Chopped candied fruits are in such scarce supply this year that our local stores don’t have them in stock. Perhaps a rum Raisin Cake will work, instead, or maybe a simple Cranberry Bread, preserved with a dash of Moscato. I baked it last night and left it cooling on the kitchen counter.
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock, And you hear the kyouck and the gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock, And the clackin’; of the guineys and the cluckin’ of the hens And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence; O it’s then the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best, With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest, As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock, When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock They’s somethin kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here – Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees; But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze Of a crisp and sunny monring of the airly autumn days Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock – When the frost is on the punkin and fodder’s in the shock. The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn, And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn; The stubble in the furries – kindo’ lonesome-like, but still A preachin’ sermons to us of the barns they growed to fill; The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed; The hosses in theyr stalls below – the clover overhead! – O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock, When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock! Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps; And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage, too! I don’t know how to tell it – but if sich a thing could be As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me – I’d want to ‘commodate ’em – all the whole-indurin’ flock – When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!