This is a special time of year. Forget for a moment the shops, the finances, the pressure of time, the build up to the one date – the 25th. This is also mid winter. We have just passed the solstice and the days are short and dark. The weather, particularly in britain, can be brutal and relentless. But there is magic in the air, regardless of conditions, or maybe because of them! People over the centuries have celebrated this time, made rituals to get through it, come together as families or communities and shared what they have.
The Yule log is thought to be of either germanic or french origin (buche de noël). The gift of a burning log to light the fires that would continue in that house all year for either warmth or cooking. Wishes were made as it lit other logs and candles. Silence was kept as this happened with the family watching.
Meals and food were also as important as warmth. Food collected in the autumn needed to be preserved to get through the cruelest winter months of January and February. Mixtures of fruit and meat were doused in alcohol, usually brandy, to both preserve them and make them palatable. Mincemeat is so part of our culture in Britain now but it’s origin was simple in the need to keep nourishing food for the family. Then, along the way in this passage of time, came the birth of Jesus, the new Gospels and the Church. The exporers and traders of the time were also busy bringing 3 new spices from far away lands: cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. These wonderful spices had antimicrobial qualities, further preserving the food and developing the richest of tastes! Around the 12th century they also became symbolic of the church’s celebration of the birth of Jesus, representing the 3 gifts to the baby from the Wise Men of the East.
Nowadays, mincemeat rarely has meat in it, the meat being exchanged for beef suet. The fruit, the brandy and those 3 wonderful spices have become synonymous with Christmas and Mid-Winter in Britain, from the mince pies, to the puddings, the aroma, the warm kitchen, the candles. These are the mid-winter gifts. And in my mind we should remember this is also about getting through tough times together, remembering past events, people who have left us but are still very loved, people who are with us but have nothing themselves to give, sharing what we have however little that might be. So yes, truly a time of magic.
Ponder: Verb. To wonder about something, to think in depth. Ponderings: In depth thoughts . Finances: Things concerning money. Build up: Both a phrasal verb and a noun. (V) To make something bigger or more important. (N) The raising of something so it becomes more inportant. Involves anticipation. Winter Solstice: The shortest day of the year. In Britain 21st December. Relentless: A negative term for something that seems to go on without stopping. Regardless: Despite, ignoring the fact that.. Yule: Name for the winter period around the Solstice. Doused: Covered in a liquid. Palatable: Good to taste. (Palate = part of the mouth). Beef Suet: The dried and often shredded (cut up) fat from beef. Tough times: Hardship, difficulties. Synonymous with: Linked to, interlinked, intertwined, connected to.