A brief history of Xmas
There is not a verse in the Bible about holly, ivy, mediaeval geese, Victorian turkeys, German fir trees, mulled wine, mince pies, Christmas Eve ghost stories, robins or Santa.
The word ‘Christmas’ never occurs. Like Christmas puddings, pies and trifles, it is a mediaeval invention. More Saxon ‘Mess’ (feast) than Latin ‘Missa’ (a service).
‘Mince’ pies are Elizabethan. Their suet, dried fruit and spices ‘minced’ into the meat were regarded as so indulgently ‘pagan’ that Oliver Cromwell passed an Act of Parliament authorising the imprisonment of anyone found guilty of eating a currant pie.
Let’s talk turkey, a Tudor innovation and one of Henry VIII’s less controversial cuts. But only after Scrooge sent a big one to Bob Cratchit did the turkeys really start voting for Christmas.
Unlike most of our modern Christmas traditions, turkey isn’t German, Nordic or American in origin. Germany tucks in to roast goose and carp served with Gluwein while Icelanders feast on Gammon steak, herring and reindeer. In America, from which it was introduced to Europe by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, a turkey dinner is more associated with November Thanksgiving.
Some believe Goose is a more authentic choice but the old folk rhyme is against them.
At Christmas a capon, at Michaelmas a goose
And somewhat else at New Year’s tide, for feare the lease flies loose.
Geese were released into the stubble fields at Michaelmas to fatten up on the dropped grain. Poor farmers often paid their landlords in geese.
St Boniface cut down an oak in anger – some German pagans were worshipping it – and a fir tree (symbolising Christianity) sprang up from the roots. European tree worship survived in the Scandinavian custom of decorating the Christian house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil. Germans still set up a Paradise Tree in their homes on Dec 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve, hanging it with communion wafers and candles (now cookies) as the symbol of Christ.
But it was not until Prince Albert of the Victoria and Albert Museum, brought it to England in 1840 that it took over the British living room.
Oh no it wasn’t! It was Good Queen Charlotte, German wife of George III, in 1800. Not to mention the ancient British druids who used holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life and placed evergreen branches over doors to keep away evil spirits.
And a spirit of generosity. Let’s raise a glass of mulled wine to the sainted fourth century Bishop of Myra, thanks to whom Christmas really does have its roots in Turkey. Sinterklass. Saint Nicholas. Santa. He believed in giving gifts to children so that they could enjoy their childhood.
All that is left to say is all the team at Anise catering wish you a very happy Christmas and here’s to a wonderful 2017!