"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire. It is the time for home." -- Edith Sitwell, British poet
For me Christmas has always been about creating a warm and welcoming home and serving my guests delicious and comforting foods of the season. The candles are lit, the fireplace is glowing, and the kitchen is in full swing. Cranberry-plum jam, candied citrus, chutneys, mulling spices, white truffle salt, walnuts in their shells, crystal ginger, tangerines, the best chocolates, flavored coffees -- these are some of the foods of the season and ingredients for many delicious holiday foods. I have always been more interested in the foods of Christmas and creating a warm environment for friends and family than in the frenzied exchange of presents. Don't get me wrong, I love giving meaningful gifts to my family and friends and putting them under the tree, but I get more excited about the baking, cooking and decorating the house, all the elements that create the warmth and comfort of this magical season.
And so this year I decided to do something a little different and decorate the the kitchen for Christmas. After all, it's where I will be spending most of my time -- wrapping presents, cooking, baking, and just hanging out with my family. I've been listening to Christmas music, organizing my baking supplies, wrapping gifts, preparing for the big day and really enjoying my Christmas kitchen.
So many of my favorite passages from books about Christmas have to do with food. "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote is an autobiographical story about a young boy named Buddy and his eccentric, elderly cousin who make fruitcakes at Christmas time in the big house where they live with the "relatives." It is a beautiful piece of writing. The description of all the luscious ingredients that go into their fruitcake is mouthwatering --
"Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pineapple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey, and oh, so much flour, butter, so many eggs, spices, flavorings: why, we'll need a pony to pull the buggy home."
It's commonly believed that writers such as Charles Dickens, Clement Moore, and Washington Irving are responsible for our modern day version of Christmas. Before they wrote their beloved Christmas tales and introduced many holiday traditions, the celebration of Christmas was a very different affair, certainly not as festive as it is today. For one thing, until Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, Christmas trees were not common. But Albert brought from Germany the custom of having a decorated Christmas tree at Christmas time and British and American citizens enthusiastically adopted it. The Victorians loved Christmas and many of the writers celebrated it in their writing.
I love this passage about a country Christmas from "The Mill on the Floss" by George Eliot--
"There was the smell of hot toast and ale from the kitchen, at the breakfast hour; the favorite anthem, the green boughs, and the short sermon, gave the appropriate festal character to the church-going...The plum-pudding was of the same handsome roundness as ever, and came in with the symbolic blue flames around it...the dessert was as splendid as ever, with its golden oranges, brown nuts, and the chrystalline light and dark of apple jelly and damson cheese; in all these things Christmas was as it had always been since Tom could remember; it was only distinguished, if by anything, by superior sledding and snowballs."
Perhaps more than any other writer, Charles Dickens is responsible for "creating Christmas" as we know it today. "The Man Who Invented Christmas" by Les Staniford is a wonderful book on this topic.
Of all the passages in "A Christmas Carol" regarding a warm and cozy Christmas, the ones about Mr. Fezziwig's Christmas Ball and the Cratchitt's Christmas dinner stand out. I read these two scenes and I want to crawl into those pages and be enveloped by all the warmth and Christmas cheer that Dickens describes. These are the scenes about family and friends gathered together to celebrate the season with traditional foods such as roast goose, warm wassail and plum pudding. And when Scrooge wakes up from his dream and orders the biggest Turkey to be delivered by a young street urchin to the Cratchitts we smile at the merriment and glad tidings of it all.
The passage about the that prize turkey that hangs in the window of the butcher shop always fills me with emotion and fuels my sense of optimism and hope, and charity and compassion -- concepts that Dickens was writing about in his beloved classic:
"It was a Turkey! He never could have stood upon his legs, that bird. He would have snapped 'em off in a minute, like sticks of sealing-wax.
'Why, it's impossible to carry that to Camden Town,' said Scrooge. 'You must have a cab.'The chuckle with which he said this, and the chuckle with which he paid for the Turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried."
And so this Christmas I am hoping to create many Christmas memories as well as delicious Christmas foods for my family and friends. The idea of hearth and home is compelling at this time of the year and there is something very comforting about the holiday rituals.
One of my favorite traditions is wrapping presents and I have collected papers, ribbons, festive baubles and everything I can think of for making the gifts look beautiful.
Now that the kitchen is ready, this is the room I want to be in the week before Christmas!
I hope you are enjoying your holiday traditions.