Monday, December 8, 2014

Folk Tale Secret Stash: A Baker's Dozen.

It’s the Holiday Season!  Yay!  How time flies!  It feels like just a couple months ago me and Jack O’Lantern were blogging through October.  Um, actually, I guess it was.  Anyway, you can expect a few holiday posts here before the new year starts.  I promise we won’t get co-opted by Santa Claus or anything, though.  The Halloween thing was enough.

Anyway, people often have different opinions on when the holiday season starts.  Thanksgiving?  Black Friday?  December 1st?  However, most people would agree that the season includes Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s.  However, one could argue that another holiday occupies the holiday season.  That would be Saint Nicholas Day which falls on December 6th, which was just two days ago.

Now, a little background on Saint Nicholas.  He was the bishop of Myra in Asia Minor.  After he was canonized, he became recognized as the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, schools and children.  A number of different European cultures observed Saint Nicholas Day.  It was believed that on that day, Saint Nicholas would travel around the world and leave gifts for children in their shoes.  Over time, this tradition would start getting worked in with other traditions having to do with Christmas or New Year’s.  Anyway, one of the cultures that observed this tradition was that of the Dutch, who called Saint Nicholas “Sinterklaas”.  They even brought the tradition with them to the New World when they settled what would become New York State.  That is where the story of “The Baker’s Dozen” begins.

Now, the story starts in the early days of Albany, New York back when it was still known as Beverwyck.  In this town, there lived a baker named Volckert Jan Pietersen Van Amsterdam (we’ll just call him Van Amsterdam for short).  It was around New Year’s (the tradition having started to shift already) and he was baking gingerbread cookies in the shape of Saint Nicholas for the New Year.  Now, this day, a witch walks in.  She comes to the counter and asks for a dozen Saint Nicholas cookies.  Van Amsterdam counts her out exactly twelve cookies. The witch notices this and complains that he stiffed her one cookie and that a proper dozen is thirteen (the English actually started the original baker’s dozen tradition because of laws saying a dozen loaves of bread had to be above a certain weight).  Van Amsterdam then gets into a heated argument with the woman and essentially shoves the box into her hands saying he would not give her the extra cookie.  Upon leaving, the witch cast a curse on the man and his bakery.

The next week, nothing went right in the bakery.  Nothing he baked turned out right.  Cakes were stolen from out of his shop window.  Some loaves of bread he baked were so light they floated out the chimney.  Others were so dense and heavy the broke through the floor.  His cookies lost their flavor and his cakes collapsed.

Eventually, the witch came back.  Still, Van Amsterdam would not give her a count of thirteen cookies.

After that, it got worse.  The poor luck got even worse and even extended to his family.  His children would get tears in their clothing for seemingly no reason.  Whenever his wife visited the shop, she would be struck by a sudden deafness.  It even seemed as if the bakery was haunted by spirits.  Customers started to be driven away.

At this point, Van Amsterdam decided to call on some assistance.  He prayed to Saint Nicholas.  That night he had a vision of the saint and . . . Wait a minute!  What am I doing?  I’ll give the ending away.  I don’t want to do that.  Anywaym, if you want to read the story, a good place to find it is on American Folklore’s website where it can be located right HERE.

This story might not be a real fairy tale or even as obscure as some of the others I’ve spotlighted.  However, it’s rare that I get to focus on a story that is so close to where I call home.  I live in Watervliet, which is just a hop, skip and jump from Albany.  So, I hope you enjoyed this special holiday Folk Tale Secret Stash.  More holiday goodness is yet to come.

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