Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Twelve Days Of Christmas


Many people probably think the twelve days of Christmas start before December 25th, since what was once a religious holiday has evolved into an over-the-top commercial one; but in Western Christian Churches the twelve days of Christmas actually run from December 25th until January 5th.  It is then followed by The Epiphany on January 6th.  Some Christian traditions count the evening of December 25th and the day of December 26th as the First Day of Christmas and include The Epiphany -- a day remembering that Three Wise Men, or Magi, arrived, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Christ child.  Traditionally, there are three Magi, as the Bible names three gifts, but did you know that the narrative never mentions how many Wise Men came?  Also, many of us know the names of the Magi [Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar], but that's not mentioned in Scripture either.

Although December 25th is celebrated as Christmas in the West, some countries wait until January 6th to exchange gifts.  Shakespeare's “Twelfth Night” is January 5th, the last day of the Christmas season before the celebration of the Epiphany.  In some cultures, it is the custom to give Christmas gifts for each day of Christmas.  And out of this practice, we have a well-known song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

The origins of the song are equally fascinating … and controversial.  Some historians suggest "The Twelve Days Of Christmas" began as a song of Christian instruction during England's Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, with hidden references to the Catholic faith.  But other historians disagree, claiming the song was simply a fun parlor game of secular origins.  Because there's no unshakable proof either way, we'll have to wait for scholars to establish the song's true origins with more certainty.

Here 's the Religious Symbolism cited in "The Twelve Days Of Christmas":
1 My True Love refers to God
2 Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens refers to Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-Laying refers to the six days of creation
7 Swans A-Swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments
8 Maids A-Milking refers to the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-Leaping refers to the Ten Commandments
11 Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles [minus Judas]
12 Drummers Drumming refers to the points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed [source: carols.org.uk]

Clearly, it's a spirited Christmas song, fun to sing in a big group, regardless of orgins.  I hope you're enjoying the holidays.  But, don't take down those decorations yet.  There are still eight more days of Christmas to go!
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stay Warm With A Goose Down Coat

When you're in the hustle and bustle of a crowned city street look around you.  Everyone seems to own a goose down coat.  Recently I bought one, and now I understand the reason for their popularity.  

Ultra warm and lightweight, it's my new go-to coat.  

Before selecting it, I shopped around and asked lots of questions.  I learned, if you want a warm down coat that needs less layering, it should be at least 70% down, with 600 fill insulation.  

Based on quality and style, I liked three companies: Moncler, North Face and Lands' End.  Each makes a super warm coat that lets you bundle up without bulking up.  Good.  Let's avoid a Michelin Man look.  After I considered a fourth element -- cost verses value, I chose the Down Chalet Coat from Lands' End.  Here's why: Designed as stylish as its competitors, it has all the bells and whistles for a fraction of the cost!  

Lands' End's Chalet Coat is 80% natural goose down with 650 fill insulation, which is comparable to the others.  It has (1) an attractive wind and water resistant polyester shell; (2) snaps and a zipper [double] closure; (3) a goose down insulated, snap-off hood; (4) micro-fleece storm cuffs; and (5) 5 pockets [3 inside and 2 fleece-lined outside].  All 5 pockets zip closed.  And what makes the coat truly warm in the coldest weather is (6) a wind blocking chin guard.  With the chin guard and insulated hood, I don't have to wear a scarf, or hat in 17 degrees F.  So far, I've avoided hat hair and wearing extra layers of clothing.  Plus, I get lots of compliments wearing it.  It's surprising how toasty warm such a lightweight coat is.   

The coat is mid-calf, longer than it photographs and machine washable too.  Extra tip from Landsend: When machine drying your coat, throw in a few tennis balls to fluff it up.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Homemade Almond Roca


Every December I become a cookie baker, but my friends Cara S. and Michelle K. are the candy makers.  When Cara visits, she brings me a care package of confectionary delights.  And Michelle, who taught Cara about candy making, rivals Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory.  When I stop by Michelle's house, she sends me into the candy room, with a festive paper bag in hand, to pick out whatever I want.  Deciding is a hard job, but someone has to do it.  Everything from caramel-nut turtles and peppermint bark to chocolate covered nuts and chocolate chip cookies wrapped around miniature, peanut butter cups are homemade with dark, milk or white chocolate.  Leave it to faithful friends like me to take some of Michelle's inventory off her hands.  It's a waist expanding experience, but my taste buds couldn't be happier.  Below is a recipe for old fashioned Almond Roca I hope the candy makers check in.

Almond Roca

Ingredients:

4 sticks butter
4 tablespoons water
2 cups sugar
2 cups slivered or chopped almonds
1 cup chocolate chips
½ cup finely chopped almonds for sprinkling
Makes about 36 servings.

Directions:

1) Before you start, grease an 18” x 13” pan and put it aside.
2) Combine the butter, water and sugar, one at a time, in a saucepan.  The mixture will be runny, “cheesy” and runny/smooth.  Cook on a high flame, stirring constantly through the three stages.  The runny/smooth stage will turn a caramel brown color.  It will be very hot, so be careful.
3) Remove the caramel mixture from the heat, and stir in the chopped almonds.  Combine well.
4) Next spread the caramel-almond “toffee” on the greased cookie sheet.
5) Sprinkle the toffee with chocolate chips.  After the chocolate melts, spread it across the top.
6) And finally, sprinkle the top with additional chopped almonds.

While the candy is still warm and soft, you can score the top to make it break evenly after it cools, or simply wait to break it up into rustic pieces.  Waiting for the candy to cool is the hardest part of all.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Ambiance Of A Brasa Fire



If you live in a house with a fireplace, you know how inviting it is to stay warm by nestling in front of the flames on a frigid, winter day.  Now there are products on the market to safely bring a fire to any room, or tabletop without having to install a traditional fireplace.

Compact and portable, Brasa Fires are ventless and fueled by renewable green energy.  They run on denatured alcohol [bio-ethanol], a biofuel made from agricultural products like corn, sugar and potatoes.  With chic and modern designs, Brasa Fires create atmosphere and add warmth wherever you put them.  Consider placing a Brasa  fireplace in a living room, or choose a slender fire lamp as a centerpiece for a coffee table, or outdoor patio table by a pool -- Ok, I'm dreaming!  

If you already have a fireplace, the company also sells burner inserts that can be placed into a masonry hearth, or the built-in fire setting in your home.  

Brasa Fires are suitable for houses and apartments alike.  They are easy to set up.  No installation is necessary.  Costs: $165 - $625.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Let's Ease Into Christmas With Bette Midler

video

Christmas is three weeks away.  Tonight I'm attending a tree lighting.  Have you decorated, or completed your shopping?  I'm not quite ready to sing Christmas carols just yet, so I'm going to ease us all into the spirit by sharing a tune, which beautifully expresses what Christmas is all about, even though it's not really a Christmas song.  Next weekend I'll pull out the decorations and Christmas albums.  But I'm not quite there yet.

Also next week, I'll bake my first batch of Christmas cookies.  Called Russian Tea Cakes, they are very popular among my family and friends.  These holiday sweets are often sold in specialty shops, but are simple to make at home:

Russian Tea Cakes

Ingredients: 

1 cup butter
½ cup confectionary sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup chopped pecans [or walnuts]

Directions: 

1) Heat the oven to 350 F
2) Thoroughly mix the butter, sugar and vanilla.
3) Work in the flour, salt and nuts until a dough forms and holds together. (You want a dry dough.)
4) Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet brushed lightly with oil.
5) Bake 10 - 12 minutes until set, but not brown.
6) While warm, roll in confectionary sugar.  Cool and roll in sugar again to look like snowballs.

Makes about 30 cookies.  Costs: Less than $5.

Above ... Miss M is divine, as are the teacakes.  Enjoy!

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