Solstice and Other Winter Traditions - A Repost

Originally posted on December 17, 2009:

When I was out the other day, I got to thinking about why we celebrate Christmas. Many people only associate the birth of Christ with the holiday. Most do not realize that many aspects of Christmas come from different winter celebrations. The following are some of these traditions.

Solstice
The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Odin during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Odin, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.

In Rome, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated. Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra's birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

Santa Claus
The origin of Santa Claus begins in the 4th century with Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors purportedly stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas' popularity throughout Europe.



His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to claims he that he could perform miracles and devotion to him increased. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia, where he was known by his red cape, flowing white beard, and bishop's mitre.

After the Reformation, European followers of St. Nicholas dwindled, but the legend was kept alive in Holland where the Dutch spelling of his name Sint Nikolaas was eventually transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes. Dutch colonists brought brought this tradition with them to America in the 17th century and here the Anglican name of Santa Claus emerged.

Christmas Trees
Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.

In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called the winter solstice. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.

The ancient Egyptians worshiped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from the illness, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.

Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs. In Northern Europe the mysterious Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder.

Mistletoe, Holly, and Poinsettias
Mistletoe was used by Druid priests 200 years before the birth of Christ in their winter celebrations. They revered the plant since it had no roots yet remained green during the cold months of winter.

The ancient Celtics believed mistletoe to have magical healing powers and used it as an antidote for poison, infertility, and to ward of evil spirits. The plant was also seen as a symbol of peace, and it is said that among Romans, enemies who met under mistletoe would lay down their weapons and embrace.

Scandinavians associated the plant with Frigga, their goddess of love, and it may be from this that we derive the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. Those who kissed under the mistletoe had the promise of happiness and good luck in the following year.

In Northern Europe Christmas occurred during the middle of winter, when ghosts and demons could be heard howling in the winter winds. Boughs of holly, believed to have magical powers since they remained green through the harsh winter, were often placed over the doors of homes to drive evil away. Greenery was also brought indoors to freshen the air and brighten the mood during the long, dreary winter.

A native Mexican plant, poinsettias were named after Joel R. Poinsett, U.S. ambassador to Mexico who brought the plant to America in 1828. Poinsettias were likely used by Mexican Franciscans in their 17th century Christmas celebrations. One legend has it that a young Mexican boy, on his way to visit the village Nativity scene, realized he had no gift for the Christ child. He gathered pretty green branches from along the road and brought them to the church. Though the other children mocked him, when the leaves were laid at the manger, a beautiful star-shaped flower appeared on each branch. The bright red petals, often mistaken for flowers, are actually the upper leaves of the plant.

Candy Canes
It was not long after Europeans began using Christmas trees that special decorations were used to adorn them. Food items, such as candies and cookies, were used predominately and straight white candy sticks were one of the confections used as ornamentation. Legend has it that during the 17th century, craftsmen created the white sticks of candy in the shape of shepherds' crooks at the suggestion of the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

The candy treats were given to children to keep them quiet during ceremonies at the living creche, or Nativity scene, and the custom of passing out the candy crooks at such ceremonies soon spread throughout Europe.

According to the National Confectioner's Association, in 1847 German immigrant August Imgard used the candy cane to decorate a Christmas tree in Wooster, Ohio. More than 50 years later, Bob McCormack of Albany, Georgia supposedly made candy canes as treats for family, friends and local shopkeepers. McCormack's brother-in-law, Catholic priest Gregory Keller, invented a machine in the 1950s that automated the production of candy canes, thus eliminating the usual laborious process of creating the treats and the popularity of the candy cane grew.

More recent explanations of the candy cane's symbolism hold that the color white represents Christ's purity, the red the blood he shed, and the presence of three red stripes the Holy Trinity. While factual evidence for these notions does not exist, they have become increasingly common and at times are even represented as fact. Regardless, the candy cane remains a favorite holiday treat and decoration.

**Information for this post taken from here and here.

A Punch of Flavor

I came across a product that I'd not heard of before, Onion Crunch, and was given an opportunity to try it out.  Onion Crunch is a crispy onion topping for, well... just about anything!  I was happy to see that Onion Crunch contains only four ingredients:  Onion, Palm Oil, Wheat Flour, and Salt.

We've tried it on mashed potatoes, green beans, and pizzas.  All were big hits!  But my favorite is a recipe I found right on their website!  Lately we've been super busy.  Two kids attending middle school that are in all sorts of organizations and play sports means we do a lot of running from here to there.  This also means we don't have much time for elaborate dinner festivities.  Enter a recipe with four ingredients.

Onion Crunchy Chicken
  • 2 tbls all-purpose flour
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups Onion Crunch
Crush the onions slightly (or not if you're in a hurry!).  Rinse and pat dry chicken, dip into beaten egg, then place on baking sheet.  Bake in 400 degree oven for 20-25 mins.

Simple, easy peasy recipe.  The Onion Crunch gives the chicken such a good flavor!

Interested in trying some Onion Crunch?  Visit their website for more recipes and use their store locator to find where you can buy their product!  

*I was given a sample of this product for review. All opinions are my own.

Project 52 is Officially...

a bust.  I did a horrible job of even attempting half of what was on my list.  But let's just focus on the positive, shall we?

Successful ventures:

  1. Plant a garden.  It was a tiny little thing. Radishes that were too small to eat.  Cucumbers that were horribly misshapen. And tomatoes plants that had no tomatoes.  Clearly this needs work.
  2. Visit the beach.  If I didn't do anything else on this list, this one was getting checked off one way or another.  Gulf Islands National Seashore did not disappoint.
  3. Visit a National Park.  I loaded up the whole family and took them on a mini road trip to visit Abraham Lincoln's birthplace and childhood home.  It was the most awesome feeling to stand next to Sinking Spring and know that Abraham Lincoln and his family had once stood there too.
  4. Create a monthly cleaning plan.  I did this.  For about 3-4 months.
  5. Create chore charts.  I did this.  Then got tired of having to hassle and remind others to do their stuff so I just ended up doing their chores myself.
  6. Redecorate the dining room.  I did 3/4 of this.  I still haven't made my "EAT" sign yet.
  7. Buy Photoshop Elements.  Done!
  8. Visit the library twice a month.  This year Kentucky libraries began online lending!  
  9. Read 25 books.  Ok, I'm counting this as a win, but I haven't read 25 books.  I've read 20.  It wasn't my initial goal, but 20 books is an accomplishment in my mind.
  10. Teach the baby to sign.  This is... so-so.  She can sign "more", "milk", and "drink", but most of the time she gets "more" and "milk" confused or just does them both.
  11. Number 7 on my list... learn to knit.  I really didn't think this was going to happen.  In a sense, it hasn't.  I'm effectively cheating on this one, but like the books, I'm chalking it up to "close enough".
On a recent visit to Hobby Lobby with my Mom, she noticed a small, inexpensive little contraption called The Knook.  Basically, this is knitting with a crochet hook.  She is an avid crocheter, knows how to knit, but liked the ease of crocheting better.  She thought she'd give it a whirl.  Her knowledge of crochet ended up being an issue because she was trying to crochet the stitches instead of knit them.  For me, this is like someone speaking a dead language.  Does Not Compute.  I do not know the difference between stitches.

She gave me the Knook with an extra ball of yarn and told me to just give it a try.  So I did...

First attempt... I kept knitting instead of knit and purling.  Oops!
Thank goodness this little beginner's kit had illustrations! (For left and right handed people!) I had to keep flipping back and forth and reading over and over.  But I finally got it!  Err... I thought I had it, but it turned out that while I thought I was knitting a row then purling a row, I was actually just knitting everything.  Another handy illustration...  what your yarn should like like.  It turns out that if you just knit every stitch, it's called the Garter Stitch.
A couple of days later!
A few days and a few swatches of yarn later, I can knit a row and purl another!  This is as far as I've gotten in my learning process, but practice makes perfect.  I don't think I'm ready for any large projects, but let's just say that scarves are definitely in the near future.

So learn to knit is getting checked off my list.  Even if it's sort of cheating!  Did you have a list of goals for 2012?  How did you do on your list?  

Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary and Garlic

I hadn't intended to do a recipe/food post about this meal.  Honestly, I don't have much time to think about anything right now.  Busy, busy, busy around here.  I barely managed a photo and it's a bad photo too.  I know a good food blogger takes excellent images of their dishes, but I didn't.  I'll take the bad grade and be happy because this roast tastes so good!

In an effort to curtail the constant eating out on game nights,  we've started trying to find recipes that are quick and easy.  Usually that means a frozen pizza, but we were all getting tired of those.  A couple of months ago, I picked up a Crock-Pot recipe book from the book fair at school.  I hadn't made anything from it yet, but a crock-pot meal was just what I was looking for.

I didn't follow the recipe to the "T", but it was so very, very good y'all.  I couldn't NOT post about it.

Scrumptious tenderloin goodness
Here's how I did it:

-1 boneless pork tenderloin weighing a little over 4 lbs because the husband did the shopping (see original recipe below)
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-4 tablespoons olive oil
-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
-2 tablespoons dried rosemary
-A lemon of lemon juice, because what do you call that?  It isn't a jar, it's a lemon.
-1 can of chicken broth

I combined 4 tablespoons (give or take a half a tablespoon) with the garlic and rosemary.  Because I used dried rosemary, I let the combination sit on my counter for about 15 minutes so they could mingle and get to know one another.

While the previous ingredients were enjoying cocktail hour, I poked a few holes with a fork on the top and bottom of the tenderloin.  I was feeling angry.  Then I took the lemon juice and squirted a bit on both sides followed by a dash or two of salt and pepper.

I poured about 3/4 of the can of chicken broth into the bottom of the Crock-Pot, then added the tenderloin to the pot.  I poured the mixture of rosemary, garlic, and olive oil to the top of the roast and spread it out to cover the majority of the tenderloin.  Which was uncomfortably curled into my pot because the husband bought a too big tenderloin!!

I put on the lid and pushed that button over to LOW for 10 hrs.  Recipes always give an option for HIGH and I don't know why.  Who does that?!?  No one.  No one should ever put their slow cooker on the HIGH option.  It really shouldn't exist.  Just go ahead and use your trusty Sharpie and black out that word.

It took both my husband and myself to remove it to the cutting board without it just completely falling apart in the pot.  I let the tenderloin rest for 10-15 minutes before just using a fork to pull off pieces.  And that's it!  So simple!  If you scroll down, I have included the original recipe and you will see that I took extreme liberties with how I cooked this.  I can't imagine how good it would be if I had seared it as I was supposed to have done.  It was simply the best roast we have ever eaten.

I guess I should note that we also had mashed potatoes and rolls too, but I'm sure we could have just made a meal of the roast by itself!  If you try out this recipe, I'd love to hear how it turns out for you!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Here's the original recipe:

BONELESS PORK ROAST WITH GARLIC

1 boneless pork rib roast (2-2.5 pounds), rinsed and patted dry
Salt and black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 lemon, cut into 1/8-1/4 inch slices
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock

Unroll pork roast and season with salt and pepper.  Combine 2 tablespoons oil, garlic and rosemary in small bowl.  Rub over pork.

Roll and tie pork snugly with twine.  Tuck lemon slices under twine and into ends of roast.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium heat until hot.  Sear pork on all sides until just browned.  Transfer to Crock-Pot slow cooker.

Return skillet to heat.  Add white wine and stock, stirring with wooden spoon to loosen any caramelized bits.  Pour over pork.  Cover; cook on LOW 8 to 9 hours or on HIGH 3.5 to 4 hours.

Transfer roast to cutting board.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes before removing twine and slicing.  Adjust seasonings, if desired.  To serve, pour pan juices over sliced pork.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Cost of Living Increase

Let's go back.  W-A-Y back to August of 2011.  I embarked on a mission to create a mobile for my daughter because the ones that I loved were way too expensive.  You can find the post here.  I was scanning through old posts the other day when I ran across this one and was shocked at the price changes of the mobiles that I was previously coveting.

Bird Mobile - GraceandJane - $55
In 2011, this mobile was $50, now it's $55.  That's not too much of an increase, this is acceptable.

Felt Forest - hingmade - $125
This mobile was only $70 in 2011, now it's a whopping $125.  This is NOT acceptable.  I was shocked to see how much of an increase this mobile has incurred.  I thought that $70 was too much, but an extra $45 on top of that.  Um... no thank you.

Crocheted Bees and Flowers - creationfaeries - $100
This mobile was in the "more" category so I'm actually not sure how much it cost in 2011, but IF I were going to pay $100 for a mobile, it would probably be one like this.  The crocheted cuteness is almost too much to handle.

Have you ever gone back to look at an Etsy listing that you loved to find that the price has dramatically increased or decreased?

December Photo A Day

I've been working on doing FatMumSlim's Photo A Day project all year.  I've done better on some months than on others.  Last month I did a horrible job of keeping up.  I finally just kind of gave up and decided I'd resolve to do better in December.

December 1st -- 8 o'clock
First Saturday of the month!  I got to sleep in so when 8 o'clock rolled around I was still staring up at the ceiling fan in my bedroom. 

December 2nd -- peace
 Today's prompt was "peace".  I don't get much time for peace in our busy days, but I took a few minutes to download a new game on the Wii and spent some peaceful quality time with my older kids.

December 3rd -- something you held
Ah yes... something I held...  My breath at my son's basketball game.  New coach this year, opposing teams that do a full court press at MIDDLE SCHOOL basketball games like they think this is the NBA... and our players are playing like this year's UK team.  

After this week, I'll start posting a weekly wrap up on Sunday.  I don't want to flood your Reader!  Are you doing FatMumSlim's Photo A Day challenge for December?  Leave me a comment so I can come by and check out your photos.  Don't put them on your blog?  No problem!  I'm on Instagram too!

DON'T FORGET  ---> To vote for my blog at A Peek at Karen's World for her 2012 Blog Awards!  Voting ends on December 7th.

People are Stupid

Or how my mother and youngest daughter kept me from knocking some heads together.

M'kay so today was the annual Christmas parade in our town.  NOT my hometown.  I've never attended a Christmas parade.  I don't recall having them when I was growing up.  Maybe we did, but seeing as how I lived smack dab in the middle of town, you'd think I'd remember if we did have any.  I'm glad that it was 60F+ today, but didn't really put me in the Christmas spirit when I could have been wearing my flip flops.  Which I didn't wear... what is wrong with me?!

I took my two older kids to the school to get their instruments ready and get some practice in before the parade.  This was at 12:15pm and the parade didn't start until 2pm.  I ran to my Mom's to waste a little time. An hour (AN HOUR!!) before the parade was scheduled to begin, I decide we should probably head toward downtown to find a parking spot for both the car and our behinds.  I barely found a parking spot, whipping it into the last spot available at RiteAid.  We find a spot to take in the view.

As soon as the parade began, fourteen thousand people (really only about 15 or so), adults and children, walk in front of us, in the road, and plant themselves there for the entire parade.  One little boy kept snatching any and every piece of candy he could find.  Even if it was in another kids hand.  I kept asking him and others to please step back because there were smaller children behind them.  Finally I had to get hateful about it because Candy Thief would not move.  When he finally did scoot over, his mother puts her arm around him and informs him that he can stand anywhere he pleases, don't listen to me, and shoots me the dirtiest look.  My brain was screaming, "EXCUSE ME LADY!!!"  Well, that absolutely explained why her kid had no respect for the other kids or adults.

I saw no less than 5 kids come perilously close to being run over by large farm machinery, tractor trailer wreckers, and other vehicles.  They were so interested in grabbing that random piece of candy that they weren't paying any attention to their safety.  The parents were too busy pointing out the random pieces of candy that they weren't paying any attention to their safety either!

To make the whole experience even better, when we returned to our car some arsehole had parked perpendicular to our car and two others.  Completely blocking us in.  I wasn't in a hurry because the traffic was insane, but seriously dude?  I waited for him to return because well, what else was I going to do?  I'm proud of myself though because I didn't curse him like my brain was screaming at me to do.  I told him he was disrespectful, rude, and inconsiderate.  And to have a nice Christmas.  The lady in the minivan next to us was less than friendly.  She cursed him like a sailor.

Don't cha just love the Christmas spirit?!

Needless to say, my first Christmas parade experience was less than stellar and will probably be my last Christmas parade experience.

In other news, Karen from A Peek at Karen's World has nominated my blog in her 2012 Blog Awards in the category of Best Kept Secret!  I'm so honored!  This totally makes me say, "Aww shucks!"  Thank you, Karen!  Now everyone go to her blog right now and vote!  You have until December 7th!