In the Dutch colonial town later known as Albany, New York, there lived a baker, Van Amsterdam, who was as honest as he could be. Each morning, he checked and balanced his scales, and he took great care to give his customers exactly what they paid for—not more and not less.
Van Amsterdam’s shop was always busy, because people trusted him, and because he was a good baker as well. And never was the shop busier than in the days before December 6, when the Dutch celebrate Saint Nicholas Day.
At that time of year, people flocked to the baker’s shop to buy his fine Saint Nicholas cookies. Made of gingerbread, iced in red and white, they looked just like Saint Nicholas as the Dutch know him—tall and thin, with a high, red bishop’s cap, and a long, red bishop’s cloak.
One Saint Nicholas Day morning, the baker was just ready for business, when the door of his shop flew open. In walked an old woman, wrapped in a long black shawl.
“I have come for a dozen of your Saint Nicholas cookies.”
Taking a tray, Van Amsterdam counted out twelve cookies. He started to wrap them, but the woman reached out and stopped him.
“I asked for a dozen. You have given me only twelve.”
“Madam,” said the baker, “everyone knows that a dozen is twelve.”
“But I say a dozen is thirteen,” said the woman. “Give me one more.”
Van Amsterdam was not a man to bear foolishness. “Madam, my customers get exactly what they pay for—not more and not less.”
“Then you may keep the cookies.”
The woman turned to go, but stopped at the door.
“Van Amsterdam! However honest you may be, your heart is small and your fist is tight. Fall again, mount again, learn how to count again!”
Then she was gone.