I just read a scathing review of Sarah Palin’s new Christmas book, and frankly, I thought the review was more hostile than anything he claimed she wrote. I do, however, disagree with one premise Ms. Palin frequently makes, and that is that many Americans are waging a war on Christmas every time they separate the sacred from the secular in reference to “the holidays”. I am certainly not waging any sort of war on Christmas, but I do find it silly when people sanctify every little Christmas reference without an acknowledgement that millenia of humans have been living on this earth prior to us, and also prior to the advent of Christ, and they contributed to the lexicon of the season in ways in which we may not be aware.
Earthlings have had the security of living on a slightly tilting planet, 23.5 degrees, to be almost exact. I call this cockeyed position secure because while the tilt creates dramatic seasonal and daylight shifts at the poles, at least it has been consistent. Watch or read Game of Thrones to get a taste of what it would be like to have years of summer and then unpredictably, an unspecified number of years, perhaps a decade or even generation, of winter. Whether you like or dread the solstice daylight shifts, we do know that they are temporal. We can count on the change.
Allan’s ancestors are Norse/Germanic. The idea of Yule comes from those cultures and simply means a time of merriment. The use of natural decorations such as trees, holly, mistletoe, and fire, later replaced by lights, became traditions. Circular shapes, as in the Northern European centerpiece called the Yule wreath, were made of evergreens with a candle in the center, symbolic of the circle of the seasons with the sun in the center.
It is believed that early Christians, who were persecuted by the Romans, moved the celebration of Christ’s birth, which was probably closer to mid-April, to the winter solstice because there was already a party going on at that time, and they could gather those revelers around the celebration of Christ, building their numbers for resistance. The symbolism of the solstice, light returning to a people in darkness, gradually became a metaphor for Christians of Christ’s message bringing joy and hope to mankind.
A carol that comes to mind is Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, in German, or the traditional English carol Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming. Here is a verse from my favorite translation:
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
From tender root hath sprung.
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.
I think we can all take hope that no matter how dark our moment, it is possible to experience new growth, probably in the most unexpected places.
Allan is coming home tonight. We have been apart for five weeks, the longest time in our 30 years of marriage. A solstice feast is being prepared that is full of symbolism for us. There will be crab bisque made from the dungeness crab we harvested when the sun barely set last summer. We will have some other bright flavors with the meal like a citrus salad and a tart cranberry panna cotta for dessert, and for an edible centerpiece, I’ve made this bread wreath. Allan will be bringing the French champagne for the sparkle.
It will be true yuletide, or time to celebrate, as we sit around our table together tonight.
From Martha Stewart, November 2013
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and sprinkling
- 1/2 cup rye flour
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons bread flour
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast (from one 1/4-ounce envelope)
- 1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees), plus 1 cup water for baking dish
- Mix together 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, the rye and bread flours, salt, yeast, and warm water in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. (Dough will be sticky.) Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Refrigerate dough in bowl until cold, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 475 degrees, with a pizza stone or inverted rimmed baking sheet on rack in top position and a baking dish on rack in lowest position. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Knead briefly to incorporate, then form into a smooth ball. Return to bowl, cover with towel, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
- Invert a cookie sheet, cover with parchment, and dust with all-purpose flour. Place dough in center. Poke a hole in center of dough with your thumbs and stretch it until dough measures 9 inches in diameter and hole measures 4 1/2 inches in diameter. Generously sprinkle with all-purpose flour and let rest, uncovered, 15 minutes. Using kitchen shears, cut 14 deep Vs into top of dough, going almost all of the way through. Pull points of cut Vs away from center to create 14 leaves around wreath. Let rest, uncovered, 15 minutes.
- In one quick motion, slide wreath on parchment onto pizza stone, then pour water into baking dish. Bake until bread is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Slide wreath on parchment onto a baking sheet, then slide wreath off parchment onto a wire rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Bread is best eaten same day it is made.