The legend of Santa didn’t start with coming down the chimney

Published 8:01 pm Thursday, December 21, 2017

‘Tis two nights before Christmas, and all through the house…

Across Beaufort County, families are preparing for that special visitor, the great arbiter of naughty or nice, the bringer of gifts, or the gift of stocking full of coal, as the case may be.

Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Santa Claus is prepping reindeer and sleigh for a worldwide visit to children everywhere.

He’s been a long time coming. His legend goes far back in time to the fourth century and Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop in the town of Myra. Along with being the patron saint of sailors, merchants, students, repentant thieves, children, brewers, archers, pawnbrokers and performing miracles, Saint Nicholas was also known for his secret gift-giving.

Fast forward a few centuries and Father Christmas is introduced in the mid-17th century, but until the 1850s, Father Christmas was all about adult feasting and merry-making — he wasn’t too concerned with children being naughty or nice, at all. When the Victorian period arrived, so did the modern-day version of Father Christmas: he became a bringer of gifts. And he started arriving via chimney, courtesy of Washington Irving, who included his description of Saint Nicholas’ visit in the book “A History of New York.”

In the time since, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus became synonymous.

And it wasn’t until the 1930s in America, that Santa was given his due in Christmas Eve cookies. While leaving cookies for Santa may seem like an odd tradition, it’s actually one born of gratitude. The Great Depression brought great economic hardship to many families; parents’ attempts to teach gratitude for the few Christmas gifts children did receive led to the exchange. Nearly 90 years later, this expression of gratitude is still practiced. Below are a few recipes to get one started on this Christmas’ lesson in gratitude.



Suzanne Heath

Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, Washington

4 cups all-purpose flour; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 1/2 teaspoon baking soda; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg; 1 cup butter, softened; 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar; 1 egg; 1/2 cup sour cream; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Sift flour and other dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream together butter, sugar and egg until light and fluffy. Beat in sour cream and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture. Form dough into a large ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight. Divide dough into four parts. Roll and cut dough into shapes, one portion at a time. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven on greased cookie sheets for 10 to 12 minutes. Frost and decorate as desired. Yield: four dozen.



Phyllis Godley & Kathleen Willis

Smyrna Original Free Will Baptist Church, Blounts Creek

1/2 cup milk; dash salt; 1 teaspoon vanilla; 1 stick margarine; 2 cups sugar; 2 tablespoons cocoa; 1/2 cup peanut butter; 2 cups oatmeal.

Mix milk, salt, vanilla, margarine, sugar and cocoa together and boil for three minutes; remove from heat and add 1/2 cup peanut butter and oatmeal. Use a large spoon and place on wax paper and let cool.



Lola White

Smyrna Original Free Will Baptist Church, Blounts Creek

5 cups flour; 2 cups sugar; 4 tablespoons warm margarine; 4 tablespoons warm honey; 5 eggs; 1 teaspoon baking soda; 2 tablespoons milk; 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves; 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel; 1/2 teaspoon ground aniseed; 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; 1/4 teaspoon anise.

Combine dry ingredients, then add combined liquids. Knead well, then cover and place in refrigerator overnight. Roll our dough thinly (1/8 inch or slightly less). Cut out shapes. Place on flour sprinkled cookie sheet. Spread each with egg yolk. Bake in middle heated 350 degree oven. Bake until golden. Cool and decorate.



Mary Whitley

First Free Will Baptist Church, Washington

2 cups all-purpose flour; 3/4 cup sugar; 1 teaspoon baking soda; 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon ginger; 3/4 cup shortening; 1/4 cup molasses; 1 egg slightly beaten.

Combine first six ingredients. Stir. Cut in the shortening until mixture forms crumbs. Stir in molasses and egg. Shape into one-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. Cool on wire rack.



Shannon Waters

Bath Christian Church

1 box devil’s food cake mix; 1/2 cup cooking oil; 2 eggs; 1 (6 ounce) package semi sweet chocolate pieces.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend cake mix, oil and eggs. Stir in chocolate pieces. Drop from a teaspoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Be sure to use timer. Cool on cookie sheet about one minute then remove to rack to finish cooling.



Sallie Scales

Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, Washington

4 (one-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate, melted; 1/2 cup salad oil; 2 cups granulated sugar; 4 eggs; 2 cups all-purpose flour; 2 teaspoons baking powder; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 3/4 cup confectioners sugar, approximately.

Combine melted chocolate, oil and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the chocolate mixture, mixing well. Chill several hours or overnight. Roll dough into one-inch balls, then roll each in powdered sugar and roll again between the palms of your hands. Place two inches apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Leave on the pan for a minute or two, then cool on a rack. Yield: approximately four dozen cookies.



Angel McSweeney

Washington Pediatrics

1 cup soy margarine; 3/4 cup confectioners sugar; 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract; 2 cups flour; 1 tablespoon cinnamon; 1 1/2 tablespoon sugar.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In medium bowl, beat margarine with electric mixer until creamy. Add confectioners sugar; beat until smooth. Add vanilla, mix and set aside. In large bowl, stir together flour and cinnamon. Gradually add margarine mixture; beat until well blended. Divide dough in half. Roll each 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick. Cut dough with reindeer shaped cookie cutter. Place one inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 18 minutes.

These cookies are milk, nut and egg free.



Anne Higgins

First Presbyterian Church, Washington

1/2 cup butter; 1/2 cup brown sugar; 1/4 cup currant jelly (red); 2 teaspoons baking soda; 1 1/2 tablespoons milk; 2 eggs; 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour; 1/2 teaspoon allspice; 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves; 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg; 1/2 pound chopped candied cherries; 1/2 pound chopped citron; 1 pound chopped pecans; 1 pound seedless raisins.

Cream together butter, brown sugar, currant jelly and eggs. Dissolve baking soda in milk. Mix together flour and spices. Add milk and baking soda to batter. Add 1/2 flour mixture to batter. Dust fruit with remaining 1/2 flour mixture. Add batter with fruit. Use large vessel to mix together; this will be thick. Flour and grease cookie sheets. Drop by spoonful. Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes.



Dorothy Smith

Tri-Community Ruritan Club

1 1/4 cups sifted flour; 1/2 teaspoon baking soda; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1 stick margarine; 3/4 cup sugar; 1 egg; 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; 1 cup chopped Baby Ruth bars.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. Cream together margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in Baby Ruth pieces with the dry ingredients until well blended. Chill for 30 minutes. Drop dough by 1/2 teaspoons onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until done. Remove from cookie sheets and cool on wire racks.

A GIFT OF GRATITUDE: Cookies left for Santa on Christmas Eve are part of a lasting tradition started during the Great Depression. Visitors to Santa on the Porch were treated with cookies while they visited with Santa on Tommy and Barbie Alligood’s porch in Washington Park on Saturday.