CHRISTIAN FEASTS AND CUSTOMS
by Francis Weiser (1952)
Fertility -Rites •
In pre-Christian times the winter solstice was celebrated for ten or twelve days in December. One of the main features of the celebration consisted of rituals expressing reverence for the gift of bread, thereby wirming the favor of the field gods for the new year of planting and reaping. Agricultural fertility cults were universal among the ancient nations of Europe. Invocations, display of wheat in the homes, baking of special kinds of bread and cakes, symbolic actions to foster the fertility of the soil, honoring the spirits of ancestors who had handed down the fields and pastures were all part of their ritual.1
With the coming of Christianity many of these practices were discontinued; many others, however, were never relinquished and were more or less incorporated into the celebration of Christmas, usually assuming Christian symbolism.
This dual origin of many Christmas customs has been preserved most clearly in the agricultural nations of eastern Europe, especially among the Ukrainians, whose country still is regarded as the "bread basket" of Europe. To a Ukrainian peasant, Christmas was, and still is, what Thanksgiving Day is to us, a day on which he offers thanks to God for a good harvest and invokes .divine blessing for his fields in the coming year. On Christmas Eve, the father of the Ukrainian family brings into the home a sheaf of wheat from the barn, placing it upright in a comer of the room. This sheaf is called "Forefather," symbolizing those forefathers of the nation who first tilled the land. The floor is strewn with hay and straw; there is hay even on the table, on which two loaves of fragrant white bread are placed, one on top of the other, with a Christmas candle stuck in the upper loaf. The first and most important dish of the solemn dinner on Christmas Eve is Kutya, consisting of boiled wheat with honey and poppy seed. The head of the family, after blessing this dish, takes a spoonful of it and throws it against the ceiling— an ancient symbol of thanksgiving that has survived from the pre-Christian era.
In Poland, sheaves of wheat' or grain from the harvest are placed in the four corners of the principal room on Christmas Eve. Straw is spread on the floor and laid on the dining table, and a clean white cloth put over it. The table, bearing the Christmas candle and dishes with traditional pastry, is placed in front of the family shrine—usually a statue of Christ or the Blessed Virgin.2
Breads and Cakes •
In most countries the Christmas cakes, which were baked on the eve of the feast and eaten during the season, were said to bring special blessings of good luck and health.3 In Ireland, England, and Scotland cakes were baked on Christmas Eve for every member of the household. These were usually circular in shape and flavored with caraway seeds. The Irish people have a Gaelic name for Christmas Eve, Oidhche na ceapairi, which means "Night of Cakes."4 In Germany and France, Christmas cakes were often adorned with the figure of the Holy Child, made of sugar. The Greek Christmas cakes had a cross on top, and one such cake was left on the table during Holy Night in the hope that Christ Himself would come and eat it. The Christmas loaf (Pain calendeau) is still made in southern France; it is quartered crosswise and is eaten only after the first quarter has been given to some poor person. In central and eastern Germany a special bread (Christstollen) is made of wheat flour, butter, sugar, almond, and raisins.
Slavic people (Poles, Russians, Slovaks) and other nations of eastern Europe prepare, in addition to their Christmas loaves, thin wafers of white flour which are blessed by the priest and eaten, often with syrup or honey, before the main meal on Christinas Eve. The Lithuanians call these wafers "bread of the angels," the Poles oplatki (offerings). Various scenes of the Nativity are imprinted on them, and the head of the household distributes them among his family, as a symbol of love and peace. In Russia, Saint Nicholas (Kolya) puts wheat calces on the window sills during Holy Night Among the nations of central Europe fruit bread (Kletzenbrot) and fruitcake are favorite Christmas dishes. In France and French Canada housewives bake a large batch of small round loaves (pain cEhabitant) in honor of the feast
Sweets and Pastetes •
Even more abundant and varied are the many forms of Christmas pastries, cookies, and sweets that have survived to the present and, in some countries, as a substitute for the ancient cakes. In Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and other regions of central Europe, the Christmas pastry Weih-nachtsgeback has various forms, different in shape and composition. Christmas tree pastry (Christbaumgeback) is made of a white dough and cut in the shape of stars, angels, flowers, and animals. It was, and still is, hung on the tree and eaten by the children when the tree is taken down. The honey pastry (Honig-backwerk) is made of flour, honey, ginger and other spices, and is a favorite Christmas dish all over Germany as Lebkuchen, Pfefferkuchen, Pfeffernusse. Another pastry, baked very hard, is the South German Springerle, cookies rectangular in shape with pictures, such as flowers, animals, dancing figures, and many Christmas symbols stamped on them.
The Scandinavians bake their Christmas pastry in the form of a boar or he goat (Juleber, Julgat). It is served at Christmas with the other dishes but not eaten until January 19, the feast day of Saint Canute (Martyr, King of Denmark, died 1086). A familiar Spanish Christmas sweet is the dulces de almendra, a pastry made of sugar, flour, egg white, and almonds. Similar almond pastries are used during this season in Portugal and Italy. Central and South American people enjoy an unusual pastry, hunuelos, baked of white flour, very crisp and brittle, and eaten with syrup or honey. In Venezuela the haUaca is the national Christmas dish. It is a pie of chopped meat wrapped in a crust of corn pastry. The French and French Canadians have doughnuts (beignes) made of a special dough, also fruitcake and white cream fudge (sucre a la creme), and a cake of whole wheat, brown sugar, and dates (carreaux aux dattes). The Lithuanian people eat little balls of hard and dry pastry (Kukuliai) which are softened in plain water.
THE CHRISTMAS DINNER
Christmas, among Latin Catholics and all Eastern Rites, still is, preceded by a day of fasting and abstinence, in preparation for the Lord's nativity. But on Christmas Day, ever since the feast was established, a great dinner was held. Naturally in the course of time each nation developed its own treasured customs in connection with the Christmas meal.
The Festive Meal •
The traditional American Christmas meal is English in origin, although the English "Christmas bird" (usually goose or capon) was supplanted by turkey and cranberry sauce. The boisterous Christmas dinners of the English nobility and gentry in ancient times, with many guests and gluttonous eating and drinking, have never found their way into the New World and have long since disappeared in Britain.
The typical English Christmas dinner in medieval times, in castle and manor, started with the serving of the boar's head, which was brought in solemn procession by the chief cook, accompanied by waiters, pages, and minstrels to the tune of the old carol, "The boar's head in hand I bear."5 Then followed other courses in bewildering variety: roast boar, beef, pork, venison, Iamb, capon, goose, duck, swan, pigeon, and others.6
Among the common people, a large bird was the standard fare at Christmas dinners: goose, capon, bustard, or chicken; and, ifter 1530, turkey, which had been brought from Mexico to Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century and was soon 5omesticated in Spain, France, and England.7 It was this tradi-dsonal festive meal of the common people which set the style ~£ the American turkey dinners at Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Mince Pie •
Mince pie on the Christmas table is an old English znitom.8 When the Puritans in New England tried to supplant Christmas with Thanksgiving (and almost succeeded for a time), they also transferred the English Christmas dinner of "a bird" and mince pie to their new feast day.
The British had various kinds of "mined pie" long before it became a part of the Christmas meal. The Christmas pie originated when the Crusaders, returning from the Holy Land, brought along all sorts of Oriental spices, and the Feast of the Lord's Nativity came to be celebrated with a pie containing the spices from His native land.
A Christmas mince pie of the seventeenth century, according to Robert Herrick, was filled with beef tongues, chopped chicken, eggs, raisins, orange and lemon peelings, sugar, and various spices. In this recipe it is not difficult to recognize the basic pattern of modern mince pie.9
Before the Reformation, in honor of the Saviour's humble birth, the mince pies were made in oblong form, representing the manger; and sometimes, in the slight depression on top of the pie was placed a little figure of the Child Jesus. Thus the pie was served as an object of devotion as well as a part of the feast.10 The "baby" was removed and the "manger" was eaten by the children. This custom was suppressed by the Puritans when they came to power in the seventeenth century; and the pie was henceforth made in circular shape.11
Plum Pudding •
A national Christmas dish in England was, and with variations still is, the famous plum pudding. It was bound up in a cloth, boiled on Christmas morning, and served with great ceremony, often saturated with alcohol and set aflame while being borne into the dining room. The name dates from the end of the seventeenth century. Before that time it was called "hackin" because its ingredients were hacked or chopped before being mixed into the pie.12
Christmas Drinks •
Christmas has always been a favorite occasion for drinking, especially so in recent tunes, when hard liquor often replaces the sweet ciders and light wines of more temperate days. The Latin nations enjoyed, and still do, their customary wine with the Christmas meal. In northern Europe, beer was a favorite drink; in England, ale. A Christmas drink peculiar to the English was the "wassail," always served in a large bowl. The word comes from the Old Saxon and used to be a drinker's greeting (Was haile:- Your Health). It usually consisted of ale, roasted apples, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger, and was drunk while hot. From this custom of drinking the wassail, the English derived the word wassailing for any kind of Christmas revels accompanied by drinking.13
It was not until the eighteenth century that the mild wassail drink was gradually supplanted by a punch made of stronger spirits. The punch bowl finally replaced the wassail bowl and is now a popular feature of the Christmas celebration in many homes. Another traditional English drink was "Lamb's wool," made of ale and the juice of roasted apples, heated, and spiced with nutmeg.
AND SO NATURALLY AS THINGS ARE ADDED AND MADE-UP TO A SO-CALLED CHRISTIAN RELIGION, FOOD IS GOING
TO BE ONE OF THE THINGS INVENTED AND ADDED. YOU WILL HAVE NOTICED SOME OF THE FOODS WERE SHAPED INTO THE CRIB OF JESUS AND INTO THE BABY JESUS HIMSELF.
IT IS ALL ADDING TO ADDITIONS AND ADOPTIONS AND ADAPTIONS FROM THE PRE-CHRISTIAN FESTIVAL OF LATE DECEMBER INTO JANUARY 1ST - THE WORSHIP OF THE SUN FROM DECLINE BACK INTO A NEW FORTH-COMING OF LONGER DAYS.
ALL OF THIS IS A MONSTER BREAKING OF GOD'S ADMONITION OF DEUTERONOMY 12:29-32. READ IT, MARK IT, IT SAYS WHAT IT MEANS AND MEANS WHAT IT SAYS.
IF YOU READ THE BIBLE AS WITH A CHILD'S MIND, IT IS CLEAR HOW YOU ARE TO WORSHIP GOD AND CHRIST.
AS JESUS SAID UNLESS YOU BECOME AS LITTLE CHILDREN, YOU CANNOT ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD.