Stories from Christmas Past

During our festive holiday meeting this month, we exchanged Christmas memories (along with great food and grab bag gifts). Two stories arose that had to be shared.

The Father Christmas Trap by Barbara

“When I was little, my older brother would tie a string on his big toe and the door knob on Christmas Eve, so he would wake up when Father Christmas came. He didn’t realize that the door opened inward, and therefore the string would go slack.”

Father Christmas is Watching! by Mary

“My older brother, Billy, was in charge one Christmas Eve, as my parents had to go to a funeral. My father would dress as Father Christmas and put our gifts in our stocking, which would be at the bottom of the bed. So, Billy had to take his place. My two younger brothers were still awake and we couldn’t stop giggling at him. So, he started hitting us, saying ‘You shouldn’t be awake when Father Christmas comes.’ He was so angry, but we couldn’t stop laughing.”

Happy Holidays!

Christmas Dinner in a Tin?

Don’t want to spend hours cooking the traditional Christmas dinner this year? Read Mike Krumboltz’s article (posted on Yahoo Games) for details on the meal that begins with scrambled eggs and bacon, ends with Christmas pudding, and is conveniently encased in one tin…

via Disgusting Christmas “Tinner” offers a time-saving alternative for gamers | Games Blog – Yahoo Games.   By Mike Krumboltz December 5, 2013 5:12 PM Plugged In

Christmas in a can (Credit: GAME)

Christmas in a can (Credit: GAME)

We’re Crackers for Christmas! British Holiday Traditions

Christmas Crackers, Pantos and Mince Pies, oh my!

Christmas CrackersPantomime PosterMince Pie

Thanks to Betty, of the DBE in Louisiana, quintessential holiday customs are illuminated:

Turkey – Introduced in the 16th Century and immortalized in the final pages of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, turkey is the traditional star of the Christmas dinner in the U.K. Click here to learn more about the bird’s history and click here for Gordon Ramsay’s Christmas Turkey and Stuffing on BBC Food.

Mince Pies – These delicious little morsels started life centuries ago as “Christmas Pyes”, and included a mix of meats, fruit and sugar. Crusaders returned to England with spices which were added to, and eventually replaced, the meat mixture. Mince pies were once illegal, have clubs devoted to them, and are believed to grant both good and bad luck. Click here for DBE LA’s step-by-step recipe or here for Rose Prince’s “fail-safe” recipe. Or, if you prefer to buy, click here for the Pie Club’s top ratings. Remember to never: stir the mincemeat mixture in counter-clockwise direction; refuse a mince pie; or cut it with a knife (all unlucky).  Tradition calls for consuming a pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas (for luck) and making a wish when eating the first one. For more lore, click here.

Mistletoe – The magic plant that remains verdant while its host tree is dormant was once believed to be curative (it is actually poisonous) and was hung over a baby’s cradle to protect against fairies. Mistletoe-related kissing came about because the plant was thought to cure broken hearts and quell quarrels. DBE LA provides simple directions to grow your own mistletoe here.

Christmas Crackers – Invented in 1847 by Tom Smith, the Christmas cracker is a holiday essential. A festively wrapped cardboard tube with a strip that snaps when pulled, the cracker is filled with a paper hat, a prize and the requisite bad joke. DBE LA advises the proper pulling technique is to start by crossing your arms and pulling a whole circle of crackers around the table. Hold your cracker in your right hand, and pull your neighbor’s cracker with your free left hand. Read more about the history of the cracker at AbsolutelyCrackers.com (where you can also order crackers  for all occasions) or click here to send a FREE virtual cracker via e-mail. Feeling crafty? Channel4.com provides step-by-step instructions to make your own crackers.

Pantomime – A Christmas tradition since the late 1800s, the beloved pantomime (panto) remains true to its origins. The story inevitably follows the classic template, where boy wins girl (aided by a helpful animal) and good triumphs over evil. Ensuring a good time for all, the productions also add hefty doses of silly character names, slapstick, double entendres, exciting chase scenes, and often, a celebrity dame. Audience participation plays a vibrant role, with patrons yelling warnings to the hero (“He’s behind you!) or disagreeing with the villain (“Oh no you’re not!). Click here to learn more about pantos, including some great images.

Father Christmas – From his humble beginnings as a nondescript Christmas entity in a 15th Century carol, Father Christmas has come a long way. In the 17th Century, Father Christmas (or Old Christmas or Sir Christmas) emerged, as a large man with ginger beard and green cloak, who visited houses to feast with families. By 1880, he developed into the gift-bearing, jolly old man in the symbolic red robe. Originally children sent letters to Father Christmas via the fireplace. On Christmas Eve, children leave a mince pie and drink (milk, sherry, tea, etc.) for Father Christmas and a carrot for the reindeer. A stocking or pillowcase is hung at the end of the child’s bed (or sometimes above the fireplace), in hopes that it will be filled with gifts. To track the sleigh’s progress, children can visit NORAD’s official tracker site at NORADSantaTracker.org . If you need a dose of old-school Father Christmas, be sure to read the classic ode to St. Nick, which can be viewed in its entirety here.

Have yourself a merry British Christmas!

The Great Christmas Pudding Race

Twas the fortnight fore Christmas, when all through the street

The Yule racers were ready, awaiting their heat.

The puddings were placed on the platters with care

In hopes that through the race, they would remain there.

The runners were limber, all in fancy dress,

While visions of obstacles caused trifling stress.

The sprint gifts research and requires no wrap.

After, some reveling – then a long winter’s nap.

If you are in Brighton, Lyme Regis, or London, you’re in luck! The Great Christmas Pudding Race takes place on 7 December (London and Lyme Regis) and 14 December (Brighton) and promises to be most merry. The event invites teams of six, all in fancy dress, to race through an obstacle course. In case that isn’t difficult enough, there are added holiday challenges to complete. Did I mention the runners must also balance a Christmas pudding on a tray throughout the race? Besides invigorating the participants and delighting the crowds, the race is in aid of Cancer Research UK. See details about the race here, or click here to donate.

Santas on the Run!

Santas are running all over the United Kingdom, fueled by cookies, milk and a desire to raise funds for charities. For example, this 15 December will find jolly St. Nicks racing in Oxford (funding the Helen & Douglas House) and Edinburgh (funding When You Wish Upon A Star).

24 Nov – Stir-Up Sunday

Christmas pudding decorated with skimmia rathe...

Sure, you could go out and buy a Christmas pudding, but where is the fun in that? Celebrate Stir-Up Sunday and make your own pudding!

The traditional festivity always takes place five Sundays before Christmas, and is on the 24th of November this year. On this day, each member of the family takes a turn at stirring the pudding while making a wish. The steamed pudding is then stored in a cool spot until Christmas Day.

Stir-Up traditions include:

  • The pudding should be stirred from East to West.
  • Feel free to sing the age-old children’s rhyme: Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot;
    And when we get home we’ll eat the lot.
  • A lucky coin is traditionally dropped into the batter and baked into the pudding, as well as the optional additions of a thimble and ring. It is said that the person who finds the coin in his/her pudding on Christmas Day will find wealth, the finder of the thimble will lead a lucky life, and the finder of the ring will soon marry (editor’s note: be careful that your teeth don’t find the objects, or soon you may find a dentist).

For additional details of the origin of Stir-Up Sunday and a pudding recipe, please see Mandy Barrow’s complete post at Project Britain. Food Network also has several pudding recipes, including “Nana’s Traditional Christmas Steamed Plum Pudding with Hard Sauce”, as does All Recipes UK/Ireland (with metric measurements).

As far as a steaming vessel, several members of our group maintain that you can use any bowl or mold (as long as it is heat-proof to withstand the boiling water). I had difficulties in getting the foil to remain affixed properly to the bowl to prevent water from leaking into the batter. So, after searching many stores, my mother (as I had all but given up) found a proper steamed pudding mold at Sur la Table. I love it!

So, go forth and Stir it Up Sunday! Besides the fun of making the pudding, you get a chance at a lucky wish! Plus, many recipes call for soaking the pudding in brandy or rum several times throughout the 5 weeks. Of course, you can’t add the spirits without tasting them first…it is a good baker’s duty to check the ingredients!

DBE Barrington Court Chapter’s Christmas Cards Now Available

CAM00214These beautiful holiday cards are now available, with proceeds benefiting the British Home (Cantata), a retirement community for the people of all nationalities, located in Brookfield, Illinois.

Featuring a charming winter scene, “The Postbox” watercolor was exclusively created by artist David Sutton. Inside the card, the greeting is “Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”. Cards are available in packs of 6 for a donation of $10 per pack (plus shipping if applicable). Pick up a few extra packs to share with your friends to spread the holiday cheer!

For details, please contact us at DBEBarrington@yahoo.com.