A Baker's Dozen
Folktale from Upstate New York
In the year 1655 on the last day of December, a baker, Baas, was working late in his shop in Albany. He was selling his St. Nicholas cookies that has carried his fame far down the Hudson River. He was about to shut up shop when an uncommonly ugly old woman thrust her way in, demanding a dozen of the special Christmas cookies.
Looking into the fragrant bag the baker handed her, she said crossly: "One more cookie, I said a dozen."
"You have a dozen," said Baas. "I carefully counted twelve of my finest cookies."
"One more cookie," demanded the old woman. "One more than twelve makes a dozen."
Baas grabbed her by the shoulder and pushed her to the door. "A dozen is a dozen. You may go to the Devil for another cookie!" he shouted. "You won't get it here."
Later, when he told this story to his wife, she suggested that on a holiday eve he should perhaps have given the woman an extra cookie. But Baas reminded her that business was business.
In the months that followed, mysterious bad luck came to Baas' little bakery. Money and cookies dissapeared, as if snatched up by invisible hands. bread rose to the ceiling or fell flat as a pancake. A handsome brock oven collapsed. The stubborn baker began to wonder whether supernatural powers were not at work.
A year passed this way. On the next New Year's Eve the memory of the old woman's appearance was so vivid that Baas exclaimed: "Holy Saint Nicholas, suppose that witch comes again! What shall I do?"
As the baker spoke these words, there appeared before him the good saint, smiling with holiday kindness. "Well, Baas," said St. Nicholas, "you were speaking my name so here I am. This whole trouble can be resolved if you have the spirit which my holidays demand."
The figure of the saint vanished. In its place stood the ugly old woman demanding a dozen cookies. Baas rapidly counted thirteen of them, presenting the bag to her with a bow and a "Happy New Year!"
"The spell is broken, Baas," said the witch. "Now swear to me on the likeness of Saint Nicholas that hereafter in Albany thriteen will make a baker's dozen."
Baas took the oath. And from that day to this, a baker's dozen means thirteen.