Monday, December 21, 2009
AND THEN THERE'S FRUITCAKE
In a 1992 issue of The Sunday Times, which if I recall correctly I picked up either in Amsterdam or London, there was an interesting article on "The 12 Tribes of Christmas." A British writer, Desmond Morris, had just published a book called "Christmas Watching." He said about his book, "Although people tend to assume that the proper roots of Christmas lie in Christianity, in fact hardly anything we do during the Christmas festivities has the slightest connection with the arrival of the infant Jesus." Whether we do or do not agree with his statement, he does relate a few interesting back stories to some of the festive trappings that we use during the Christmas season.
First is from the Celts:
He says the ancient Celts invented the precursor of Christmas pudding to honor the Dagda, a god who, to ensure a good harvest, selflessly spent his life stirring a giant cauldron of porridge containing all the good things in the earth. At feast times the Celts used to encourage the Dagda by stirring their own cauldrons of a porridge called Frumenty, a mixture of wheat, milk, sugar and spices. Over the years more ingredients were added, such as bits of meat and fruit. In the late 1600 the mixture was thickened up, baked in a cloth, and plum pudding was born.
Next is Lapland.
Looking at the average house, the choice of chimney as entry point for a fat man with a sack would seem, at best, illogical, but not in primitive Lapland where the early Lapps lived in igloo-type houses where only the top protruded above the snow. The hole in the roof that let the smoke out was also the front door. Most modern references to Santas down chimneys can be traced back to Clement Moore's poem, called in 1822 "A Visit from Saint Nicholas." Moore was a scholarly chap and drew on a wide range of Christmas myths and legends for his story, apparently borrowing the chimney and the reindeer/sleigh from the early Lapps.
Of course we don't need to get rid of our Christmas traditions just because there is a tinch of the old heathenish origins assigned to them. To quote another old saw, that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What we embrace in our old fashioned Christmas traditions can be imbued with our own values and our own meanings, regardless of where the idea started. Thank goodness we don't have to be bound by ancient ideas and suspicions to enjoy fully all the figgy pudding we can chuff into our stomach at Christmas time.
What??? You don't make either plum or figgy pudding for the holidays? How 'bout fruitcake? I love it and would hate to see the holidays without it.
P.S. I do Chex Mix!