Sunday, November 7, 2010


   Plum pudding or Christmas pudding, as it is more popularly known, has its origins in England.  It is often served about Christmas time, or usually around Advent time.  It has been a family tradition in many homes to have a "stir up Sunday", when each child is allowed to stir the pudding and make a wish.
What is Plum Pudding?

   It's almost black color comes from the heavy dried fruits that are used to make it.  Traditionally, plum puddings are boiled or steamed using a pudding cloth and would sometimes have charms mixed inside them.  The charms may either be a silver coin, a silver thimble, anchor or ring which all stand for good things in life such as good luck, wealth, a happy marriage and a safe trip.
   A plum pudding does not really have plums in it, but it is full of dried fruits and nuts,mixed with beef suet and citrus fruit juices or alcohol such as beer, rum or brandy.  It is often dried out before it is served, as the longer it is allowed to dry, the stronger the flavor becomes.  When it is ready to be served, it is steamed and some more alcohol or juice is spread on it to bring out a strong aroma.  it may be served with a sprig of holly on top, some custard or cream, and is often decorated with caster sugar on top that somewhat resembles snow flakes.
   Historically speaking, plum puddings probably originated in England during the Victorian period, around 1420.  It was first prepared and served not as a dessert, but as a way to preserve meats and make them last all throughout periods when meats are not readily available.   The various dried fruits were used as preservatives.  During the reign of Elizabeth I, prunes were used and the name "plum pudding" evolved.
   It was only during the mid 1800's that the dish became more popular as a food often served during the Christmas season.  These days, ready made puddings are available in stores, specialty shops and supermarkets.  Although home made plum puddings are still preferred as perfect gifts for relatives and friends during the Christmas season, ready made cooked puddings are just as good, without going through many hours of preparation.


   Most of us know that with winter creeping up on us, there are holiday's coming up, too.  here in the United States, that typically means Christmas and New year's Eve.  But what about the rest of the world?  There are many holidays that are observed this time of  year from all over the globe, whether by different religions, cultures or countries.

Chanukah (Hanukkah)-

   Chanukah or Hanukkah literally means "rededication"; the Jewish "Festival of Lights", celebrating the Jewish victory at the temple and the 8 days the lamp oil lasted when there was only enough for one day during the rededication of the temple.  It begins at sundown on the 25th day of the month, Kislev, on the Jewish calendar (in Nov/Dec).  Some common things seen during this celebration are the menorah, which has nine candles, one lit for each day and one to light with; latkes, or potato pancakes; dreidals, which are spinning tops used for a game of betting; sufganiyot, unshaped jelly donuts with no holes.

Chinese New Year-

   Chinese New Year observance is set by the Chinese calendar, which is based on lunar and solar movement.  The festivities start with the first new moon of the new year and end on the full moon 15 days later.  Each day observes a different theme.  The 15th day is known as the Lantern Festival; this is a time of family reunion, celebration adn thanksgiving, and religious ceremonies for ancestors, gods, and heaven and earth.


   Kwanzaa is from matunda yakwanza, from the phrase "fist fruit".  A seven day event, lasting from December 26th to January 1st, honoring African American people, culture and history, where community, gathering and reflection are celebrated.  This observance was created by Dr. Maulan Karenge in 1966 to celebrate the African American culture.  Each evening, a family member lights candles in a special candle holder and there is a discussion of the 7 principles of Kwanzaa (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith).  On the 6th day, family and friends eat a large feast and celebrate history, culture and the upcoming new year.


   Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar, which includes feasting during daylight hours each day (no food or drink) and small meals with family and friends in the evenings; there are also other restrictions.  A time of worship and contemplation, concentrating on faith and spending less time on concerns of everyday life.  The evening of the 27th day of the month, known as Laylat-al-Qadr (the Night of Power), is considered to be the time when Muhammad first received the revelation of the Holy Quran, and when God determines the course the world for the following year.  When the fasting ends there are three days of holiday, known as Id-al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast Breaking), with gift giving and prayer, feasting, and sometimes fairs.


   Shichi-Go-San is a Japanese festival, literally meaning "Seven-Five-Three".  On November 15th the closest weekend; a celebration for girls 3 and 7 years old and boys 3 and 5 years old, evolved from designated milestones of childhood.  The children dress in their best clothes, traditionally kimonos, but often western clothing, and pray at shrines to ensure futures free of sickness and misfortune.  They are given chitose-ame, or thousand year candy, in long white paper bags covered with symbols of luck and longevity.  This is the most auspicious day of the year according to the Chinese calendar, but it is not a national holiday, and is celebrated out of tradition.

Saint Lucia Day (luciadagen)-

   Saint Lucia Day is a Swedish holiday set on December 13th, considered the beginning of the holiday season and honoring St. Lucia, a virgin martyr.  The story of Lucia consists of this saint going out in the early morning with food and drink for the poor, she was persecuted for being a Christian who wouldn't give up her faith to marry an unbeliever.  This story is acted out in family homes, with the oldest daughter playing the "Lucia bride", bringing her parents a tray of sweet saffron buns and coffee.  She wears a white gown with a red sash and a crown of greens, and her siblings will dress in white and follow her, carrying lit candles.  This feast day marked the return of the sun.


   Tet is the Vietnamese new year; the start of the new year in the lunar calendar, between the last ten days of January and mid February.  A festival after the harvest lasting three days, when everyone is nice and careful not to show anger or rudeness.  Families try their best to get together during this time.  On the family altar, joss sticks are lit several times a day, and offerings of food, fruit, water, flowers and betel are made for friendship, ancestors and children.  Red envelopes containing money are given to children for a lucky year.

Boxing Day-

   Boxing Day is celebrated in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  It falls on December 26th, which is also St. Stephen's Day in Britain.  This holiday is of unknown origin, and possibly dates back to the middle ages.  One explanation for the foundation of the holiday is that it was once customary for tradesmen (service people) to collect their Christmas boxes or gifts in return for good service throughout the year; also included giving money and gifts to the needy and charities.  In England, because it is also St. Stephen's Day, it has become associated with horse racing and hunting (along with other sports).
   Scotland does not celebrate Boxing Day, but makes up for it with Hogmanay, a huge festival of revelry on December 31st, much like our own New Year's Eve, though only celebrated on a large scale in recent years.
   Each culture celebrates with different traditions.  We have a great tradition here in the United States, but there is so much more going on in the fall and winter across the globe.  By celebrating long standing traditions or finding new ones, the colder months can be filled with lots of high spirits, and winter can seem less dull.


   In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph Mcfee was distraught because so many poor individuals in San Francisco were going hungry.  During the holiday season, he resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner for the destitute and poverty stricken.  He only had one major hurdle to overcome---funding the project.
   Where would the money come from, he wondered.  he lay awake nights, worrying and praying about how he could find the funds to fulfill his commitment of feeding 1,000 of the city's poorest individuals on Christmas Day.  As he pondered the issue, his thoughts drifted back to his sailor days in Liverpool, England.  He remembered how at the Stage Landing, where the boats came in, there was a large, iron kettle called "Simpson's Pot" into which passers by tossed a coin or two to help the poor.

   The next day Captain McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street.  Beside the pot, he placed a sign that read, "Keep the Pot Boiling".  He soon had the money to see that the needy people were properly fed at Christmas.
   Six years later, the Kettle idea spread from the west coast to the Boston area.  That year, the combined effort nationwide resulted in 150,00 Christmas dinners for the needy.  In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continued for many years.  Today in the United States, The Salvation Army assists more than four and a half million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas time periods.

   Captain McFee's kettle idea launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but all across the world.  Kettles are now used in such distant lands as Korea, Japan, Chile and many European countries.  Everywhere, public contributions to Salvation Army kettles enable the organization to continue its year round efforts at helping those who would otherwise be forgotten.