Christmas Eve -2021

Tonight the wait is over. The final candle on the Advent Wreath – the Christmas Candle – is lit.

Celebrate greatly, daughter of Zion, and shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King comes to you, righteous and The Savior, and he is meek and rides on a donkey, and upon a colt, son of a donkey!

Zechariah 9:9 – Peshitta Holy Bible Translation from the Aramaic

’twas the Day Before Christmas

So sometime after Labour Day when Laurent started talking about Christmas he insisted that I was to “take it easy this year”. I was not to spend the days before Christmastide and the day itself cooking, basting, baking and stewing – I don’t believe he meant that last word in its culinary context.

Pfeffernüsse – Chef John says they are the best Christmas cookies – not sure that I agree with him but they are still pretty good.

Well let’s just say that was the plan and as we know the best planned lays laid plans etc. etc. But actually I did cut back this year: I made mincemeat but not the 35 miniature tarts; I made tourtière but not 40 bite sized pies; I made gingerbread biscotti and pfeffernüsse; and I made a plum pudding. So you see I did cut back.

As to cooking on the big day itself things have been simplified. A starter, turkey, veggies, and plum pudding – that’s it. The starter – smoked salmon paté – is done and sitting in the fridge; the mashed potatoes ditto; the green beans and braised carrots will be done first thing in the morning; and the only thing left is to put the turkey in the oven and set the pudding to steam.

So here’s hoping I don’t ended up like poor Anne – though I might just need the brandy … and it won’t be for the hard sauce!

The word for December 24th:
Brandy /ˈbrandē/: [noun]
A strong alcoholic spirit distilled from wine or fermented fruit juice.
Mid 17th century: from earlier brandwine, brandewine, from Dutch brandewijn, from branden ‘burn, distill’ + wijn ‘wine’.

Mercoledi Musicale

This time of year I miss Bob Kerr and his Off The Record programme: it was a treasure trove of unusual and often unknown Christmas music. Because of him I discovered that the music of Yuletide went far beyond the song sheets we had at Sunday school. Perennial favourites were the Boston Camerata with their Medieval, Renaissance, and English and Early America compilations. Somehow I missed their An American Christmas CD which I only discovered on YouTube last evening. Much of this compilation is music from early tune-books or folk hymns often adapted from existing English or European hymnals/folk songs. They were composed or adapted not for professional choirs in large urban churches but for amateurs in their local parish.

Jesus, Light of the World was written by Charles Wesley, the great English hymnist, in the 1739. In 1890 George D. Elderkin, a Chicago publisher, who set it to a gospel tune (attributed to Elderkin) and added a refrain.

Sometimes a “carol” was simply taken in its European setting and translated. This is the familiar Lutheran chorale Wachet auf, sung in English, from a Mennonite German-American shape note book.

Issac Watt’s hymn Shepherds, rejoice was published in his Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1709. It was sung to several melodies however here the setting is a familiar melody at this time of year.

I was pleasantly surprised when reading Spo Reflections to see that my dear Spo has this CD and several songs from it have made his Christmas playlist.

The word for December 22st is:
Hymn /him/: [1. noun 2. verb]
1. A religious song or poem of praise to God, a god, or some person or thing
2. To praise or celebrate (something).
Old English, via Latin from Greek humnos ‘ode or song in praise of a god or hero’, used in the Septuagint to translate various Hebrew words, and hence in the New Testament and other Christian writings.

Odds and Sods Around Our House

What? More Christmas Decorations!

I don’t honestly remember when our friend Naomi started giving us these handmade ornaments – I’m guess back in the mid-1980s? What I do know is that this is the first time in years they have graced the tree. In past years they have hung in windows, and on at least one year were suspended from a brass chandelier as a centrepiece over the Christmas table. However this year they can be found on our Christmas tree. Other than my silver balls (sigh, go ahead make a joke!), we decided to forego the commemorative sets from Wedgewood, Towele et al. The tree is filled ornaments that remind us of past Christmases: dear friends, homes and celebrations.

Back in the early 1990s I discovered an Eco-friendly alternative to the foil tinsel we had used in the past. A gentleman in Morrisberg, south of Ottawa, decided to reproduce Victorian ornaments in his tin shop. Using recycled tin cans he created what our great-grandparents would have used as icicles on the their trees.

I have five tubes of these shiny, twisty strips of tin – 250 glittering icicles! Each one that has to be hung individually. Every year the temptation is to forego the task but each year I find myself laboriously finding the correct branch for almost all 250. This year only 200 are frosting the Yule branches – I know I’m being a slacker!

The word for December 21st is:
Tinsel /ˈtinsəl/: [noun]
A form of decoration consisting of thin strips of shiny metal foil.
Late Middle English (denoting fabric either interwoven with metallic thread or spangled): from Old French estincele ‘spark’, or estinceler ‘to sparkle’, based on Latin scintilla ‘a spark’.

Tradition! Tradition!

Christmas in our house is, as it is in many houses, all about tradition. And one of our more hallowed traditions was going to go by the wayside this year. It would not have been the first time however on those very rare occasions it was because we were not at home base that particular Christmas. I admitted a day or two ago I just haven’t been in the HoHo spirit this year; however this morning (December 17th) brought a change of, if not spirit, energy. I decided that tradition should not, could not, would not be denied.

So I set out the required equipment for the annual polishing of my balls. Oh grow up! Honestly faithful reader, do you not think I’ve heard all these puerile comments since I first mentioned this lovely tradition back in 2007? And I will confess it has often hurt me that this hallowed custom has been sullied and soiled by what you were just thinking? You have obviously forgotten the lovely story behind my annual ball polishing.

Christmas 1979 – the one that started the ball rolling.

Back in 1979 I was a catalogue shopaholic and my drug of choice was Neiman-Marcus, particularly their Christmas Book. It was also our first Christmas together. Out of my addiction and our blossoming relationship a lovely – howbeit much mocked – tradition was born. Each year N-M featured a lovely sterling silver ornament: a simple Saturn-like ball with Christmas and the year engraved on it. And for the next thirty years no matter where we called home – Ottawa, Mexico City, Cairo, Chicago, Amman, Warsaw, Beijing, Rome, or Aylmer – I would have a new ball to polish. (Just stop it!) Finally in 2008 it became too expensive, N-M would no longer ship internationally as it was now considered “currency”???, and they had taken over the tree. And frankly polishing 30 sterling silver Christmas balls became one of those traditions – like Aunt Mae’s fava bean casserole – that became a threat hanging over the festivities.

Now I said I caved in once again this year and did (oh what’s the use -go ahead!) polish my balls… but not all of them. This year only ten of my balls are gracing the boughs of our pseudo-sapin: three from each decade and my original ball! All it would take is a bit of spit (well okay Salvo) and polish to have my balls sparkling and ready to reflect the Christmas lights.

Ten balls gleaming and shining all ready to be hung on our tree!

So after over two hours of gentle handling and vigorous but careful rubbing my balls were sparkling and ready to be hung! And well hung they are!

The word for December 18th is:
Tradition /trəˈdiSH(ə)n/: [noun]
1. The transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.
2. A long-established custom or belief that has been passed on from one generation to another.
3. Theology: a doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the late Middle English: from Old French tradicion, or from Latin traditio(n- ), from tradere ‘deliver, betray’, from trans- ‘across’ + dare ‘give’.scriptures.

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