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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: 01/30/13

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

TOP 10 FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT CHRISTMAS!


   Christmas day – the day on which the birth of Christ is celebrated (and has been for millennia). All around the world people will be sitting down to special meals, giving gifts, singing, drinking and attending religious services. In honor of this great holiday (my favorite, in fact), we have a list of Christmas facts. 



10.
The Date
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   In the early Church, Christmas was not celebrated as a major feast. The first evidence of the Church attempting to put a date on the day of Christ’s birth comes from 200 AD, when theologians in Alexandria decided it was the 20th of May. By the 380s, the Church in Rome was attempting to unite the various regions in using December 25th as the universal feast day, and eventually that is the day that stuck. As so often was the case in the early Church, the influence of the pagan feasts of Rome is seen, because December 25 was the festival for the birth of the sun. St Cyprian makes mention of this: “O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born.”




9.
The Nativity Scene
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   Everyone knows who Saint Francis is – the famed saint who had an apparent miraculous control over animals, and who traveled to the Middle East to convert the Muslims – offering to be thrown into the fire. And we have all seen nativity sets – little (or sometimes not so little) figurines which represent the people present at the birth of Jesus. What most people don’t know is that Saint Francis invented the nativity set in the 13th century!




8.
Gifts Et Al
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   Gift giving, Christmas drinks, Christmas Cards and many other Christmas traditions are not modern gifts of capitalism (though capitalism sure does love it) – they actually come to us via the Ancient Romans who exchanged all of those things on New Year’s Day (Strenae, named after Strenia the goddess of New Year’s gifts). This was initially shunned by the Church (“(Do not) make vetulas, [little figures of the Old Woman], little deer or iotticos or set tables [for the house-elf, compare Puck] at night or exchange New Year gifts or supply superfluous drinks [another Yule custom].” -St Eligius, 7th century) but old habits die hard and it eventually transferred to Christmas.



7.
Banned!
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   In England, Christmas was forbidden by Act of Parliament in 1644; the day was to be a fast and a market day; shops were compelled to be open; plum puddings and mince pies condemned as heathen. The conservatives resisted; at Canterbury blood was shed; but after the Restoration Dissenters continued to call Yuletide “Fooltide”. Following the Protestant Reformation, groups such as the Puritans strongly condemned the celebration of Christmas, considering it a Catholic invention and the “trappings of popery” or the “rags of the Beast.” Celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The ban by the Pilgrims was revoked in 1681 by English governor Sir Edmund Andros, however it was not until the mid-19th century that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region.




Mithra




   As often happens with very ancient traditions, many myths have sprung up surrounding Christmas. The most popular is that the entire nativity did not happen and is based on the pagan Mithras character (a sun god). Many aspects of Mithra’s life are given as proof but it is only in fairly recent times that this notion has been promoted. In reality, many of the similar words were borrowed from Christianity which was sweeping the world during the height of the Mithras cult. Mithra is often said to have had an identical birth to Christ, but in reality the pagans believed he was born on a mountain top. Furthermore, the adoring shepherds at Mithra’s birth did not appear until well after the nativity of Jesus was known throughout the world. This is a case of paganism stealing from Christianity and not the other way around. 





5.
Christmas Crackers
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   I was recently surprised to discover that Americans don’t generally have Christmas crackers at Christmas. In the UK and many commonwealth countries, Christmas crackers (not the type you eat) are placed on the table and everyone pairs up to “pull” one. The cracker is a small tube of cardboard with a gift inside and a strip of paper that emits a bang when pulled. This is all covered with decorative paper and shaped to look like a bonbon. Crackers often include a little joke, a toy, and sometimes a party hat – all of which is usually kept by the person who ends up with the largest part of the cracker when it is pulled. You can buy very cheap crackers or very expensive (the ones above cost $1,000 US at Harrods). Because of the variety of prices available they are usually found in the homes of everyone, rich or poor, at Christmas. Crackers were invented by Tom Smith (a seller of candy), in 1847.




4.
Christmas Tree
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    Most people have heard the tale of how Martin Luther, the famous protestant rebel, gave the world the Christmas tree (or in some variations, candles on the Christmas tree). It is not true. The first association of trees with Christmas comes from Saint Boniface in the 7th century AD, when he chopped down a tree sacred to Thor to prove to the local villagers that the Norse gods were not legitimate. By the 15th century people were cutting down trees and putting them in their homes to decorate with sugared fruit and candy and candles. By the time Luther came around, it was a long established tradition.




3.
Xmas
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   That one small word causes anger amongst many people; many Christians consider it to be disrespectful to replace Christ’s name with an ‘x’ – even going so far as to that that it is a ploy by anti-Christians to de-Christianify Christmas. However, Xmas is almost as old as the feast it refers to – the ‘x’ is actually the Greek letter chi which is the first letter of Christ’s name in Greek (Χριστός). Xmas is every bit as religious as Christmas.




2.
Santa Claus
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Santa Claus is actually based on the early Church Bishop Saint Nicholas. He was born during the third century (around 270 AD), in the village of Patara in Turkey, and was known for secretly giving gifts of money to the poor. The modern image of him as a jolly man in red most likely comes from the 1823 poem “A visit from St Nicholas” also known as “The Night before Christmas” which you can read in full here.




1.
Candy Canes
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   In the late 1800's, a candy maker in Indiana wanted to express the meaning of Christmas through a symbol made of candy. He came up with the idea of bending one of his white candy sticks into the shape of a Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols of Christ’s love and sacrifice through the Candy Cane. First, he used a plain white peppermint stick. The color white symbolizes the purity and sinless nature of Jesus. Next, he added three small stripes to symbolize the pain inflicted upon Jesus before His death on the cross. There are three of them to represent the Holy Trinity. He added a bold stripe to represent the blood Jesus shed for mankind. When looked at with the crook on top, it looks like a shepherd’s staff because Jesus is the shepherd of man. If you turn it upside down, it becomes the letter J symbolizing the first letter in Jesus’ name. The candy maker made these candy canes for Christmas, so everyone would remember what Christmas is all about. 

HERE'S A RECIPE FOR A WONDERFUL FROSTING FOR YOUR WONDERFUL CAKES!

   This recipe and diy comes from  www.melskitchencafe.com . I hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think?




The Best Frosting {a.k.a. Magical Frosting}

by MEL 
Frosting

I am rarely left speechless {if you are my husband you are seriously nodding your head right about now}. I like to talk {husband still nodding}. To dissect the details of important matters, such as great toenail polish and food {husband falling asleep}. However, after taking a taste of this frosting, I was left completely speechless. No words. None. Just absolute, incredible tastebud bliss {husband shocked into silence himself}.
It is the best frosting I have ever tasted in my life.
You might have seen the phenomenon of this type of frosting swirling around. I tried the Tasty Kitchen version (highlighted by the Pioneer Woman) twice, and both times it was a disaster. I had given up on the so-called miracle of flour-based frostings until I saw and made this latest version.
It left me weak and trembling.
Frosting

And do you know what tops it all? There is a chocolate version. Oh, heaven help me.
I slathered this frosting on the most decadent cake I’ve made to date (posting tomorrow!) and I can’t begin to describe the magical web of fluffy, creamy sweetness that is beholden in this frosting. I am a self-professed frosting hater, which makes my testimonial of this frosting all the stronger. I abhor the greasy, filmy, overly-sugary taste of traditional buttercream. Even the adventurous seven-minute/marshmallow frostings of the world leave me wanting.
But this frosting…well, it belongs in The Best Recipe section no doubt about that. My search for the perfect frosting is over. I’ll be honest, it is a little more work and requires a bit more planning than throwing butter and powdered sugar together in a mixer but I’m promising you here and now that the results are worth every minute. The real issue now becomes making sure any of this frosting actually makes it to the cake before being inhaled by my little lips.
Frosting

*This frosting is so magically delicious, it would be perfect on everything from sugar cookies to pumpkin bars to cake. Options are endless!
*Note: this frosting takes a bit of advance planning since the frosting needs time to cool so plan ahead! Originally, I put a note on here that was included in the original recipe that the frosting keeps in the refrigerator and then can be rewhipped, but I had to delete that note because every time I have tried it, it has been a major bust. After I have refrigerated it and rewhipped, it separates and never becomes satiny and delicious again. You may find different results but in good faith I have to say that in my experience, this frosting is best made and used fresh. Finally, I pipe a lot of cakes for my kids’ birthdays (think: Spiderman covered in Wilton stars) and although I haven’t tried it, I highly suspect that an hour or so of chilling time will lend this frosting nicely to being piped. When I try it, because I will, I’ll update the recipe with my notes.
*Makes about 4 cups frosting (plenty for two 9-inch cake layers)
INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1% with stellar results)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) butter, cut into 24 pieces and softened at room temperature
DIRECTIONS:
In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt. Slowly whisk in the milk until the mixture is smooth. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a medium saucepan and pour the milk mixture through the strainer into the saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture boils and is thick enough that it starts to become difficult to easily whisk. This could take anywhere between 5-10 minutes, depending on your stove, heat, etc. It should bubble quite a bit at the end (be careful of the splatters) and thicken considerably.
Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl and cool to room temperature – this is extremely important! If it is even slightly warm, the frosting won’t beat up properly. I refrigerated my initial mixture overnight. If you do this, make sure to pull it out in time to let it warm back up to room temperature. If you try to proceed with the rest of the recipe and the mixture is too cold, the butter won’t absorb into the frosting like it should.
Once the frosting is completely cooled to room temperature (it should have no hint of warmth at all!), beat the mixture with the vanilla on low speed until it is well combined, about 30 seconds (a stand mixer will work best for this). Add the butter, one piece at a time, and beat the frosting until all the butter has been incorporated fully, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and let the mixer work it’s magic. Beat the frosting for five minutes, until it is light and fluffy. Let the frosting sit at room temperature until it is a bit more stiff, about 1 hour. I suspect if you chill it for an hour or so, it would be stiff enough to actually pipe with instead of frosting with a rubber spatula.
Chocolate Version: Add 1/4 cup cocoa powder to the sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt mixture in the first step. Once the frosting has been mixed for five minutes and is light and fluffy, mix in 3 ounces of semisweet chocolate that has been melted and completely cooled to room temperature.
*Note: I made the chocolate version a few days after I originally posted this recipe and it is delicious! The color wasn’t quite as dark as I was hoping for; it definitely made for a lighter-colored chocolate frosting but the chocolate flavor is deep and terrific. I increased the melted chocolate to 4 ounces when I made it and may even do 5 ounces next time.

SURVA, THE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF MASQUERADE GAMES FROM PERNIK, BULGARIA!!








   The Festival of Masquerade Games is the most important cultural event in the region.  More than 5000 performers from all over Bulgaria, as well as groups from many European countries take part in the festival.  It the most vital and deep rooted tradition of masquerading rites dating back to 1965.  The festival has been held in Pernik since 1966.  It is held on the last weekend of January.
   In ancient times the old Thracians held the Kukeri Ritual Games in honor of the god Dionysus-the especially known as a god of wine and ecstasy.  Even today the games are also known as the Dionysus' games.  Among the Kukeri dancers' are many different character, including Dionysus and his satyrs as well as other from deep history such as the tsar, harachari, plyuvakachi, startzi, and pesyatzi.














   People from Europe, Asia and Africa as well as representatives from every folklore region in Bulgaria, all come to Pernik to celebrate.  They come for the thrill of competitions and the pride of representing the traditions of their ancestors.  They also come to have fun.
   The masked participants are call kukeri, kokove, surakari, startsi, babugeri, dzhamailan, kamilari, etc.  They dress in fur hides or in traditional women's costumes.  They will dance in many fancy dresses and costumes.














   The performance of the masked men, commonly known as Survakari or Kukeri.  Wearing unique costumes and magnificent masks, they move around in their characteristic stride filling the air with the sound of hundreds of bells, with songs, prayers and wishes.
   During the international  festival, Bulgarian and foreign folk groups march in a procession through Pernik, displaying exuberant costumes and fantastic masks to constant ringing of bells and rattles.  They are performing the ancient rite of chasing away evil and celebrating the triumph of life being reborn, with the beginning of spring and the hopes of man and for a better harvest and a better life.

















   In Bulgarian folklore, the mask is believed to protect its wearer against powers of impure nature.  This is the most probable explanation as to why the masks look like fearful creatures with huge jaws and very large teeth, with horns and tails, snapping beaks and grisly bodies.  The sound of the bells hanging from the belts of the participants enhances their effect.  Participants from some regions use charcoal to paint their faces black and sheep's wool to make moustaches and beards.  The groups consists of various different characters.  Traditionally all parts are played by men dressed in carnival costumes.  They may carry symbolic objects with which they perform their rituals.  Bulgarian ceremonial masks are a valuable source of information for the various regions in Bulgaria. 


















   All masks are made by the individual who will be wearing it, with the help of craftsmen known throughout the village for their skill.  It is a long and complicated process.  Even the making of the masks and costumes is shrouded in mystery, it's almost a ritual in its own right. 
   Pernik is the only place where you can see masks from every region of Bulgaria.  Visitors to the carnival say the feel invigorated after going and watching to this festival.