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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: 01/17/13

Thursday, January 17, 2013

10 ORIGINS OF COMMON CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS!

   It’s the Christmas season again, and before we get sick of the eggnog, fruitcake, and Christmas music played ad nauseum, we get to enjoy it for a couple weeks. But have you ever wondered where some of our weird Christmas traditions come from? I mean, we tell our kids that a fat man is coming into our house at night; we bring in trees in to shed all over the carpet; and we kiss under parasitic plants – all in the holiday spirit. How the hell are these even related to Jesus, whose birthday we’re supposed to be celebrating?



10.
Christmas
Frankfurt-Xmas


   Christmas, as most of us know, is the Christian tradition honoring the birth of Christ – though it is not celebrated solely as such in our modern society. To us, Christmas represents a time of joy, gift-giving, and family. Christmas as we know it evolved out of the Roman tradition of Saturnalia, a festival honoring their god of agriculture, Saturn, on the winter solstice.
   Due to the already-rampant celebration taking place on the date and the revering of light and the sun, it was a natural development to celebrate the birth of Christ on the same date. Many Roman writers give references to the date of December 25th and Christianity between the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and it is believed that the holiday was widely celebrated by Christians by the turn of the 4th century. Though Christmas is celebrated as the birth of Jesus Christ, we don’t know the exact date, or even the year of his birth.


9.
Gift Giving
Christmas-Gift-Giving


   It is sometimes said that the tradition of gift-giving started with the 3 wise men, who visited Jesus and gave him gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and gold. If you want to start a Christmas tradition, I suppose the first Christmas would be a good date to start. As with many other entries on this list though, the true origin of gift-giving lies in Pagan beliefs.
   During Saturnalia, children would often be given gifts of wax dolls – an act with a rather macabre history itself; the dolls were used to represent human sacrifices that Rome had given to Saturn in the past as payment for good harvests. Boughs of certain trees and other plant matter were also a common gifts during Saturnalia, and were used to represent bounty and good harvests.


8.
X-mas
Tumblr Mdzvh0Aacr1Ri2Iblo1 1280


   While some rather ignorant groups in the Americas believe that the abbreviation “x-mas” is an attempt by the “dirty liberals” to “keep the Christ out of Christmas”, the true origins have a strong basis in Christianity. In the abbreviation, the X stands for the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ. Jesus’ name has also been abbreviated as XP, a combination of the first and second letters of the Greek word for Christ. From XP comes the labarum, a holy symbol in Orthodox Christianity that represents Jesus.
   The term X-mas has been used since the 16th century, though it gained prominent usage in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the modern world, X has been taken to be used as an abbreviation for any word with Christ or the “krys” sound in it, even in words which have no etymological connection. Chrysanthemum, for example, is sometime shortened to “xant” on florist’s signs, and crystal has sometimes been abbreviated as “xtal”.


7.
Stockings
Christmas-Stockings


   Many people know of Saint Nicholas being the basis of Santa Claus, but the practice of stocking-stuffing can be traced back to his charitable donations in the 4th century. Nicholas believed that childhood should be savored and enjoyed – but in a time where boys and girls younger than 10 had to work to support their families, this wasn’t always possible.
   He therefore gave what he could in homemade food, clothes, and furniture. The bishop even gave out oranges, which would have been very rare and expensive in Lycia, where he lived. The problem became where to leave these gifts so that the children would find them. According to legends, he then saw girls’ stockings hanging above the fireplace, and ol’ Saint Nick (to paraphrase) thought “Why the hell not?”. From then on, children would hang stockings up hoping that Saint Nicholas would visit them that night.
   Beyond St. Nick, the practice can be traced back to Scandinavian countries that still held their Pagan beliefs. Children would leave their shoes full of carrots, straw, or other similar foods for Odin’s mythic horse, Sleipnir. When Sleipnir ate the food, Odin would leave candy or other treats in their place.


6.
Wreaths
Christmas-Wreath1


   Since classical antiquity, the wreath has been used as a symbol of power and strength. In Rome and Greece, kings and emperors often wore laurel wreathes as crowns – a practice they themselves borrowed from the Etruscans, who predated them. The Greeks and the Romans connected the laurel wreath to their sun god, Apollo, and considered the crown to embody his values.
   Harvest wreathes – the predecessors to our modern decorations – were used in rituals for good harvests, and predate even written history. Ancient European animists often used evergreen in their wreathes to symbolize strength and fortitude, as an evergreen will live through even the harshest of winters. As for the connection to Christianity, since wreathes symbolized tenacity and everlasting life, they were often used in funerals of important people, specifically in the burials of saints and martyrs.


5.
Christmas Tree
Screen Shot 2012-12-14 At 8.03.53 Pm


   The modern Christmas tree differs greatly from its roots; today, we decorate an everlasting, artificial construct with bright lights and dazzling ornaments, while traditionally, the tree was of course, real and more importantly, decorated with edibles such as apples and nuts. The tradition, as with that of the wreath, started with the elements symbolized by evergreens in pre-Christian winter festivals: immortality and fortitude.
   The evergreen was also known to have represented the same values to a variety of cultures, including the Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. The worship of trees was also very common in European druidism and paganism. In Christian tradition, trees were often put up in December to serve the dual purpose of warding off the devil and allowing a perch for whatever birds still remained. Evergreen trees decorated with apples and wafers were also used in Christmas Eve plays during the Middle Ages to represent the tree from which Adam and Eve at the forbidden fruit. As for decoration, the first evidence for decorated Christmas trees comes from German craftsman guilds during the Renaissance. After the Protestant Reformation, trees enjoyed a surge of popularity among Protestant households as counterparts to the Catholic nativity scene.


4.
Caroling
Top-Ten-Xmas-Films-2


   Christmas carols grew out of the first Christmas hymns, which developed in 4th century Rome. While these Latin hymns were sung in church for generations, the first true carols developed in France, Germany, and Italy in the 13th century. These carols, written in the vernacular language of the area they were composed, were enthusiastically sung at community events and festivals. They were not composed specifically as Christmas carols, but rather as conglomerate holiday songs that were sung at many separate festivals and celebrations.
   Later on, the songs would become associated primarily with Christmas and sung in numerous churches. Carols in Protestant churches were much more numerous, since the Protestant movement encouraged the arts, especially music. The modern practice of going door-to-door caroling likely has something to do with the root word for carol, “carole” or “carula” which both mean a circular dance. The practice may have developed out of the public ceremonies that created the first carols.


3.
Boxing Day
4073Bigstockphoto Christmas Cat 4494104


   Boxing Day is, as opposed to the rest of this list, an instance where a secular holiday grew out of a religious one. In most English speaking countries, Boxing Day is traditionally the day following Christmas in which people receive gifts from their bosses or employers.
   Today, Boxing Day is known as a shopping day similar to Black Friday. Many important sporting events are also commonly held on the holiday. Boxing day grew out of St. Stephen’s day, a Christian holiday that commemorates the eponymous St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. St. Stephen was a deacon in an early church in Jerusalem. After an argument with members of the synagogue, he was accused of blasphemy. While waiting for his trial, he said he had seen God the Father and Son, though this wasn’t enough to save him – he was stoned anyway.


2.
Mistletoe
Santa


   Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which perches on a tree branch and absorbs nutrients from the trunk – hardly one of the most romantic forms of life. But it has been inspiring people to go at it for generations. Mistletoe has a large mythological background across many cultures.
   The Greeks believed that Aeneas, the famous ancestor of the Romans carried a sprig of mistletoe in the form of the legendary golden bough. In Eddic tradition, mistletoe was the only thing able to kill the god Baldur, since it had not sworn an oath to leave him alone. Amongst other pre-Christian cultures, mistletoe was believed to carry the male essence, and by extension, romance, fertility, and vitality.
   Its use as decoration stems from the fact that it was believed to protect homes from fire and lightning. It was commonly hung at Christmas time only to remain there all year until being replaced by another sprig next Christmas. The process by which mistletoe became associated with kissing is currently unknown, but it was first recorded in 16th century England as a very popular practice. Mistletoe carries a pretty good legacy, for a parasite of a plant that causes diarrhea and stomach pain when ingested.


1.
Santa
Santa Claus 3


    Most people know that Santa’s origins lie in Saint Nicholas, that generous Saint who gave presents to needy children. However, many other figures evolved into the conglomerate we call Santa Claus.
   For one, the Dutch Sinterklaas, who himself has basis with Saint Nick, was the main inspiration for Santa Claus. He is nearly identical to Santa: he wears red and white, knows if you’re naughty or nice, and has elf helpers referred to as Zwarte Piet. However, the legend takes on a much darker legend when one hears that the Zwarte Piet’s duties also include punishing naughty children with “jute bags and willow canes”. He also differs from Santa in the facts that he wears a bishop’s hat and comes on steam boat from Spain, rather than the North Pole.
   Another large influence into Santa’s design is the British Father Christmas, a figure developed in the 17th century as the embodiment of holiday joy and mirth. Odin also exists as a potential pagan inspiration for Santa Claus; he lead a hunting party with other gods on Yule, a German holiday at roughly the same time as Christmas; he rode Sleipnir, a legendary horse with 8 legs; like Santa, he has 8 reindeer; and he would fill children’s’ boots with candy, as mentioned earlier.
   The modern Santa Claus, contrary to popular belief, was not created by Coca-Cola, but has been in American folklore since the late 18th century. His name comes from an Americanization of Sinterklaas, and somewhere along the way, he lost his bishop’s hat. One could write an entire list on the origins of individual components of Santa’s story – suffice to say that they all have interesting origins, and I would suggest further reading.
   There may be a couple levels of separation, but nearly every strange traditions we practice around the holiday season stem from Christianity, and further than that, even have a basis in Pagan religions and pre-Christian traditions. And really, do the connections to Christianity even matter? Christmas is the one time of year where everyone (or nearly so) is friendly, generous and gets along with each other, does it matter the inspiration? As a non-Christian, I believe we can all learn something from the Christmas spirit, regardless of race, religion, or creed.


BURN'S NIGHT IN THE UNITED KINGDOM!!!


Robert Burns






   Burns Night is annually, celebrated in Scotland on or around January 25th.  It commemorates the life of the bard (poet) Robert Burns, who was born on January 25, 1759.  The day also celebrates Burns' contribution to Scottish culture.  Burns' best known work is "Auld Lang Syne".




reading some poetry for Burns' night




What People Do?

   Many people and organizations hold a Burns' supper on or around Burns' Night.  These may be informal, only for men, only for women, or for both genders.  Formal events include toasts and readings of pieces written by Robert Burns.  Ceremonies during a Burns' Night supper vary according to the group organizing the event and the location.






    The evening centers on the entrance of the haggis (a type of sausage made from a sheep's stomach) on a large platter to the sound of a piper playing bagpipes.  When the haggis is on the table, the host reads the "Address to Haggis".  This is an ode that Robert Burns wrote to the Scottish dish.  At the end of the reading, the haggis is ceremonially sliced into two pieces and the meal begins.





Some whiskey and Haggis



Public Life

   Burns' Night is an observance but it is not a bank holiday in the United Kingdom.

Background

   Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Scotland , on January 25, 1759.  He died in Dumfries, Scotland, on July 21, 1796.  He was a poet and wrote many poems, lyrics and other pieces that addressed political and civil issues.  Perhaps his best known work is "Auld Lang Syne", which is sung at New year's Eve celebrations in Scotland, parts of the U.K., and other places around the world.  Burns is one of Scotland's important cultural icons and is well known among Scottish expats or descendants around the world.  he is also known as "Rabbie Burns", the fa"Bard of Ayrshire", "Scotland's favorite son"; and in Scotland as "The Bard".




Men in their kilts



    Robert Burns' acquaintances held the first Burns' supper on July 21st, the anniversary of his death, in Ayshire, Scotland, in the late 1700's.  The date was later changed to January 25th, which marks his birthday.  Burns' suppers are now held by people and organizations with Scottish origins worldwide, particularly in Australia, Canada, England, and the United States.

Symbols

   The Scottish flag is often displayed at Burns' Night celebrations.  It is known as the Saltire and consists of a rectangular blue background with thick white bars on the diagonals.  The diagonals form a cross that represents Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland.
   At Burns' Night events, many men wear kilts and women may wear shawls, skirts or dresses made from their family tartan.  A tartan was originally a woolen cloth with a distinctive pattern made by using colors of weft and warp when weaving.  Particular patterns and combinations of colors were associated with different areas, clans and families.  Tartan patterns are now printed on various materials.



A plate of some Scottish delicacies


   Many types of food are associated with Burns' Night.  These include: socock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leek soup); haggis; neeps (mashed turnips or swedes) and tatties (mashed potatoes); cranachan (whipped cream mixed with raspberries and served wit sweet oat wafers); bannocks (a kind of bread cooked on a griddle).  Whiskey is the traditional drink.

LET'S TALK CROQUEMBOUCHE'S!







   This article and recipe comes from www.yumsugar.com .  I have always loved them.  Whether it's the shape or just a puff ball filled with pastry cream.












Lately, I've been seeing towers of cream puffs, or croquembouches, appearing all over the place, particularly in bridal magazines or on wedding blogs. The croquembouche is most certainly a delicious trend – we had one at our wedding and it was quite a hit! — but these magnificent sweet sculptures are more complicated than they may appear. To get an inside look at how these profiterole towers are made, I reached out to Gerhard and Mary Michler, the driving force behind Gerhard Michler Fine European Pastries and Creative International Pastries, in San Francisco.
Gerhard first started baking at age 17 in his native Austria, so it's safe to say he knows a bit about French pastry. Michler chalks the growing cream puff tower trend up to the fact that people seem to want to see new things these days, and that a croquembouche (also known as a pièce montée) is an exciting conversational piece. For more on this amazing French dessert sculpture, keep reading.
According to Gerhard, the sugar used to adhere the choux – the puffs of pastry – to one another is not only the most important element in the process, but also the most challenging. "Sugar cooked to the proper temperature gives the croquembouche the integrity to stand in a room for an extended period of time. If the temperature or air is humid, then we have to make a few adjustments to compensate for that," he says. "It takes time, patience, and avoiding getting burned by the sugar, at 300 degrees to 320 degrees Fahrenheit."
The choux may be filled with vanilla pastry cream, chocolate pastry cream, or pastry cream with alcohol, such as Grand Marnier or rum. But because the dough (pâte à choux) is sensitive to acidity, there's a limit to the flavors of pastry cream offered.
Taking a croquembouche apart is no simple task, either. Traditionally, the French walk up to the tower and pull cream puffs off with their hands, but in the States, people prefer to cut them off with a knife. Then again, there are also stories of croquembouches being severed by a sword or a saber! Though Gerhard maintains there are no secrets to the croquembouche process (at least none he's willing to share!), he does offer one important piece of wisdom.
"The more you practice at making a croquembouche," he advises, "the better you get." I suppose that means we all better get to baking. Have you ever partaken in the eating — or making — of a croquembouche?




Informal Croquembouche (Cream Puffs)








There are only a few weeks left in my 52 weeks of baking resolution, so I'm trying to find things on my "I can't believe I haven't made these before" list. Cream puffs were near the top of that list, but after last night, I'm officially able to cross them off.
I found a pastry recipe that looked simple and yielded a large haul of puffs. However, instead of a traditional custard cream — there wasn't enough time to let it set — I went with a whipped cream filling and a chocolate glaze. While mine isn't quite a traditional French Croquembouche — aka stacked cream puffs coated with caramel — it does work as a modern twist. To get the recipe that I put together on a weeknight just read more



Informal Croquembouche
Pâte à Chou (Cream Puff Pastry)
From Gourmet, December 1994
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
4 to 6 large eggs
  1. In a heavy saucepan bring water to a boil with butter and salt over high heat.



  1. Reduce heat to moderate. Add flour all at once and beat with a wooden spoon until mixture pulls away from sides of pan, forming a dough.




  1. Transfer dough to bowl of a standing electric mixer and beat in 4 eggs, 1 at a time, on high speed, beating well after each addition. Batter should be stiff enough to just hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon. If batter is too stiff, in a small bowl beat remaining 2 eggs lightly, 1 at a time, and add to batter, a little at a time, beating on high speed, until batter is desired consistency.
  2. Preheat oven to 425°F. and butter and flour 2 baking sheets.




  1. Spoon pâte à chou into a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip and pipe about 55 mounds onto baking sheets, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, leaving 1 1/2 inches between mounds.



  1. With a finger dipped in water gently smooth pointed tip of each mound to round puffs.



  1. Bake puffs in upper third of oven 10 minutes, switching position of sheets in oven halfway through baking if necessary. Reduce temperature to 400°F. and bake puffs 20 minutes more, or until puffed and golden.
  2. Let puffs stand in turned-off oven 30 minutes. Transfer puffs to racks to cool.




  1. With a skewer poke a 1/4-inch hole in bottom of each puff.
  2. Puffs may be made 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container. Recrisp puffs in 400°F. oven 5 minutes and cool before filling.





Whipped Cream Filling
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tbsp powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Whip cream until frothy.
  2. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract.



  1. Whip until stiff peaks can be formed.

Chocolate Glaze

6 oz semisweet chocolate cut into pieces (or chocolate chips)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
  1. Place the chocolate in a medium sized stainless steel bowl and set aside.
  2. In a medium sized saucepan heat the cream and butter over medium heat. Bring to a boil.


  1. Pour boiling cream over the chocolate and let stand for five minutes.
  2. Stir with a whisk until smooth.
  3. Add a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg or clove if desired.
To Assemble


  1. While cream puffs are cooling, make whipped filling. Transfer filling to a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain top and barely fill each puff (do not overfill).
  2. Using toothpicks or skewers stack cream puffs into a cone shape.


  1. Make glaze. Drizzle glaze on top of stacked cream puffs.
Alternatively, you can just dip each cream puff into the glaze and serve individually.