LET’S DISCUSS CHRISTMAS EVE HISTORY
Every woman knows that if three wise ladies in Biblical times had followed the Star of Bethlehem instead of three wise men, it wouldn’t have taken them 12 days to find the Christ child in the manger. These ladies would have had enough sense to ask directions, arrive on time and clean the stable before helping the midwives deliver the sacred baby. Then they would have made a nourishing casserole for Mary and her midwives. And, last but not least, they would have brought practical gifts like diapers, formula and footed pajamas instead of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” But, since I’m not a radical Women’s Rightist, and I’ve made my point, I’ll move on:
Christmas Eve is an enchanted night, filled with wonder, joy and hope. Each of us celebrates it differently, according to our own traditions carried down from ancestral origins. The food we prepare reflects our cultural heritage to an even greater extent than how we worship on this night. The Armenians break a week of fasting with a dinner of rice pilaf. Austrians prepare carp on Christmas Eve with dinner on Christmas Day featuring roast goose. In Chile, the Christmas Eve meal includes chicken soup filled with potatoes, onions and corn on the cob with a bread filled with candied fruit, while the children in Denmark leave out saucers of milk and rice pudding for “Julemanden” and his elves. In Germany, dozens of different cookies, shaped like characters from fairy tales include edible trees and tiny baked brown gnomes. The Christmas Yule log, once popular in France, is still represented with a traditional Yule log-shaped cake called Bûche de Noël that is served at the grand feast of “Le Réveillon” after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. And, in Italy, where the beloved symbol of the Nativity scene originated, a meatless dinner is prepared in waiting for the miracle birth, while families in England feast on roast turkey or beef followed by desserts of mincemeat pies and plum puddings.
In the eighteenth century, the “Roast Beef of Old England” was the feast for Kings. Legend has written that this “Baron of Beef”, as it was known, was humorously knighted “Sir Loin” by King Charles 2 nd after a sumptuous banquet. Beef, however, was expensive and the commoner could only afford to satisfy himself with only a small portion on special occasions. It is said that the Yorkshire Pudding was invented by poor folk who placed the pudding underneath the beef cooking on the hearth for the drippings to provide flavor, thereby satisfying a large family’s yearning for this expensive cut of meat. When sausages were added to the batter, the pudding became a complete meal known as “Toad-in-the-hole”.
In America, where people from different backgrounds have united, we celebrate Christmas with a potpourri of foods, many of which the origin is uncertain, but the tradition unbroken and paramount. These traditions are not just ethnic or geographic, but, more important, familial. Great Aunt Minnie may have boasted that her recipe came directly from her ancestral lineage of the Revolution, but, in truth, it probably came from her mother’s rendition of her grandmother’s rendition of a recipe she got from her neighbor.
With this in mind, you can cook whatever pleases you and claim with absolute honesty that it was handed down from your favorite relative.
This is V. Hart, the Frolicking Foodie, wishing you a potpourri of good eating.