Stollen Bread? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly}

Why do we eat Stollen at Christmas? All I can say is tradition...because my mom makes it every year...? There must be some background.

First, what is Stollen? Stollen, or Christstollen, is a German formed bread-like fruit cake. It's filled with dried fruits, nuts, and spices covered in powdered sugar. 

Now time travel six centuries ago to Europe! Stollen started (or was recorded) as far back as 14th century Germany. The shape of Stollen-- this fold-over dough with a white top layer-- is symbolic of baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths.  It started as a fasting cake made during Advent when people couldn't use butter, milk, or fruits (due to fasting rules) so it started as a very plain bread. After special appeal to the papacy in the 15th century, butter and milk were added, and the cake started looking more like it does today. Winter merriment started in Germany around the Winter Solstice before Christianity spread there, and the ingredients like rare spices and fruits were a treat for these special festivities, naturally also used in Christstollen.

"A  must  for breakfast."

"A must for breakfast."

All I knew of Stollen was that it was from Germany and my mom made a healthier version for my dad every year. She's an amazing baker, making more breads than I knew existed. She makes Japanese breads, Chinese special starter breads, naturally fermented starters for rustic breads, brick oven-baked bread... I could fill a book describing them all.  When I attempt yeasted breads I anxiously stare at my yeast dissolving, hoping it will activate and bubble instead of get scorched-- meanwhile my master baker mom makes her starter from scratch without any granulated shortcuts. There's no comparison to the flavor and texture of her bread- no matter what I bake it's mediocre because I've gotten used to hers. 

The etegami Christmas series wouldn't be complete without Christmas bread because our Christmas day wouldn't be the same without the sweet feast. 

This year I attempted baking 3 of the 10+ breads: 2 yeasted: Polish Poppyseed Walnut Bread, Swedish Marzipan Filled Coffee Bread, & 1 quick bread: Cranberry Orange Bread. I still have a long way to go but I hope to carry on the tradition. 

 

Christmas Cookies? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly}

Christmas cookies tradition started from holiday biscuits in Medieval Europe. They included spices and dried nuts, like many of our Christmas cookies today. Apparently there were strict baking laws (presumably for safety reasons) but the holidays were an exception.

Some say that giving cookies to Santa started around the Great Depression to teach kids generosity. I know someone who was taught all along that Santa actually doesn't like cookies, he likes pizza and beer, so he grew up leaving pizza and beer out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Clever!

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We haven't decided about Santa and kids but I wonder what the Santa who comes to our home would prefer... maybe brownies. Edge pieces only-- extra special gifts for corner pieces. 

Christmas Movies & Ewoks? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 6}

Why did we watch a movie on Christmas every year? Our favorite was It's a Wonderful Life. It never gets old! 

The top 10 most-watched Christmas movies in the states:

  1. A Christmas Story
  2. Elf
  3. Home Alone
  4. It's a Wonderful Life
  5. Love Actually
  6. Christmas Vacation
  7. White Christmas
  8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  9. Holiday Inn
  10. A Christmas Carol

DAY 6: CHRISTMAS MOVIES.

I suppose it's an obvious one that I never thought about. Families are together, there's often time off, and entertainment is nice way to relax. So, the last week in December is the highest grossing week of the year. It makes sense that if that's when people watch, making the story align with the holiday makes perfect sense! 

We don't go anywhere on Christmas but we will probably continue to watch Christmas movies at home. We will likely be watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens at some point during the last week of the year because I have that week off of work. In honor of the movie, here's a throwback to an Ewok painting that I painted for our biggest Star Wars fan friends:


Poinsettia? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 5}

First of all, the pronunciation: poinsett-ee-a? poinsett-a?

I wish they were around more than at Christmas since they're one of the few flowers I can keep alive! And to find out they are barely flowers... (the flowers are the tiny little yellow buds). I'm bursting my own bubble of festivity. 

DAY 5: POINSETTIA.

We're back to the Aztecs in modern-day Mexico where the plants originated (see post here about hot chocolate from Mexico). They grew in the wild in the winter and were used in important ceremonies. Fast forward to 16th century Mexico, when a little girl wanted to celebrate Jesus' birthday by taking him a gift but had nothing. An angel told her to take weeds which then turned into beautiful poinsettias at the church altar. The church continued to use poinsettias at Christmas, and they are now associated with the holiday because of the season they grow and because of this legend.

The name Poinsettia is from the American ambassador, Poinsett, who brought them back from Mexico to his greenhouse in South Carolina in the 1800s. 

Now back to pronunciation...

Poin-set-ya. 

But that's a little hard to pronounce so some regions developed into poinsett-ee-uh, and some to poin-set-uh. I can't ignore the i so I'm going to stick with poinsett-ee-uh.

Nutcracker? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 4}

As strange as it sounds and for no good reason, those funny little nutcrackers are my favorite Christmas decorations. Yet I have no idea where they came from or why they are around only at Christmas. If it's trendy to have a gold rhino on your stack of books as a paper weight, why can't it be a nutcracker?

"I wonder if it really cracks?"

"I wonder if it really cracks?"

Day 4: NUTCRACKER.

How did nut-cracking pliers become a home decoration? The history goes back (at least) 300 years to a woodworking town in Germany. Dolls were given for good luck, and the same woodworkers made soldier dolls as well as nut-cracking tools, so the two were combined into one as a practical gift for good luck. The connection with Christmas may come from eating around this time since nuts are harvested in the fall and keep well.

Especially after Tchaikovsky's ballet, The Nutcracker Suite, premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892 the little figurines grew in popularity. They became common in America only since the 1950s after soldiers in WWII brought them back from Christmas fairs in Germany (which I would LOVE to go to someday).

My favorite random fact that I've gathered from reading about nutcrackers is "Nutcrack Night" also known as Halloween. In Scottish and Northern English tradition, October 31 was the night to sit around a fire and crack freshly harvested hazelnuts and chestnuts. Maybe our nutcrackers should come out on Nutcrack Night and stay through Christmas!

Wreaths? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 3}

Why have I been making wreaths from Christmas tree branches the past two Christmas seasons? Why did we hang one on our door growing up? Tradition, I suppose...

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DAY 3: WREATHS.

Christmas wreaths can be traced back to Ancient Greeks and Persians, who wore them as a symbol of status or victory. They may have been hung in the home or on the door as souvenirs. Wreaths were also hung on doors as symbols of the home to distinguish one home from another.

The specific use of evergreens most likely stems from celebrating Winter Solstice. Evergreens were chosen since they stay green year-round; a symbol of life overcoming- again, a victory. 

In the Christian tradition the circular shape represents eternal life- perhaps using evergreens as a symbol of victory over death.

Which reminded me of:

"Death is swallowed up in victory. Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?...but thanks be to God who gave us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Cor. 15:55-57)

Wreaths are a much more powerful symbol than I had expected... it gives me more motivation to form those branches sitting on the balcony into a symbol to remember Christ's victory over death.

 

 

Mexican Hot Chocolate? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 2}

Mexican Hot Chocolate? No, it's not a twist on hot chocolate. It's the other way around! The modern sugary-chocolatey-milky indulgence is a distant adaption of the original.

DAY 2: MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE.

Let's time travel back 2500 years to the Maya. They made a bitter chocolate drink made of ground cocoa seeds, water, chiles, and other spices. When the Spaniards came in the 16th century, it was still this bitter and spicy cocoa drink taken for its health benefits. 

After it was introduced in Europe, sugar was eventually added in the 17th century. It was an expensive drink since all ingredients were imported. Later in the same century, a British gentleman added milk. Of course.

It wasn't until the 19th century that the Dutch processed the beans into cocoa powder (and eventually to bar chocolate, hallelujah). I always buy "dutch process" cocoa powder because of the wonderful, smooth flavor but never thought about the name. The Dutch were the first to separate cocoa butter and cacao seeds, and the name stuck.

Fast forward a couple centuries:

Have you tried hot chocolate in Italy or Spain? I was shocked the first time I tried "hot chocolate" in Italy, after growing up with American instant powdered hot chocolate. The best way to describe it is an espresso cup of rich chocolate pudding. In Spain it's also a rich chocolate pudding (plus churros for dunking).

My cooking, traveling, and painting worlds collide- my favorite moments!

心もあたたまる:"Also warms your heart"

心もあたたまる:"Also warms your heart"

I suppose my Christmas drink, my "Mexican hot chocolate" (a concoction of almond milk + dutch process cocoa powder + cinnamon stick) has little to do with the original form, but I'll keep stirring my cinnamon stick now as an ode to times long ago. 

Now with this wealth of hot cocoa knowledge, continue on with this merry December and enjoy the health benefits of good cocoa.

I meant my "hallelujah" very literally: 

And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it IS the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:13)

Mistletoe? {12 Days of Christmas Traditions Explained Quickly : Day 1}

We don't do a lot of Christmas decorating but we still have some basics including mistletoe, poinsettia, Christmas tree, branches for a wreath, nutcrackers... but if you ask me why? My best answer is: "It's festive (*add a big smile*)." So, here's my 12-day exploration featuring etegami to look at where these traditions came from!

Day 1: Mistletoe.

Why kiss under a mistletoe? Why not a holly? 

First, what is mistletoe: The name originated as "mistel"+"tan"= dung + stick

It's a parasite that is spread through bird poop. How romantic. 

Now a brief overview of the tradition: It symbolized love and friendship in European folklore, then in the Middle Ages was hung in homes for good luck and protection against evil spirits.

Kissing under it began in England, since mistletoe was attached to "Kissing Boughs"(basically a spherical version of a wreath) around wintertime . 

From England, the tradition migrated with people to America. Then fast forward hundreds of years, I'm giddy this year to discover preserved mistletoe at Trader Joe's! My first mistletoe! 

Hang your mistletoe, erase "dung stick" from your mind, and enjoy the tradition of love and friendship.