Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The First Day of Christmas.

December 26 …

Is “The First Day of Christmas” today? Or was it yesterday?

The correct answer is “both”. Another correct answer is “neither”.

It depends,to start with, on which calendar you use.

According to the Julian calendar, Christmas is not for another thirteen days.

It also depends on when “the day” starts. You thought it was at midnight, didn’t you? And you are correct, for our time and in our culture. Blame the Ancient Romans for the midnight idea. Before they imposed their definition on their subjects the “day” ended when the sun went down – which makes perfect sense for a people whose “clock” was the sun and whose calendar was the turn of the seasons.

So – the new “day” started with the start of what we now call “night”, an arrangement that fitted perfectly with the world view that said that First there was Dark, and Light and Life arose out of the dark. The idea of night preceding (not following) the day is how it came to be that “today” (Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day) actually began “last night” at sunset, and “Twelfth Night” (the eve of January 5) precedes precedes Twelfth Day (January 6), and

According to the Christian calendar, Twelfth Day (or Epiphany, or Three Kings Day) is the day that the Wise Men, bearing gifts, came to pay homage to the infant Jesus. It is the official end of the Christmas season, and at the secular rules say it is time to take down the decorations, clean out the fridge, hide your ugly presents in the back of the deepest cupboard, and start panicking about the credit card bill that is probably already in the mail.

The twelve days of Christmas are also – as I am sure by now you are repetitively aware – the subject of a traditional song, the lyrics of which are themselves the subject of much debate. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” may or may not be a song of religious symbolism, or numerological wit (if you apply the correct mathematical formula, you end up with 364 gifts – enough until the next Christmas), or a mere nonsensical childrens memory song/game. The first known recorded version dates to 1780, but it is undoubtedly much older, possibly medieval, and possibly even French in origin. In some versions the person doing the sending is not “my true love” but “my mother”, and there are minor variations in the gifts in different versions.

Your next question is probably “So what has this to do with food?” Not much, really, except that everything is to do with food, or can be made to do with food. There are many parodies of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, but my brief search has been unable to uncover a foodie version. It is time to put this to rights.

The first line of our song is taken directly from the original – there is no need to change it - Partridges and Pears are fine ingredients for a meal – particularly, I find, for breakfast. Here is some help from Eliza Acton (Modern Cookery for Private Families, 1845).

BROILED PARTRIDGE; (Breakfast dish.)
Split a young and well-kept partridge, and wipe it with a soft clean cloth inside and out, but do not wash it; broil it delicately over a very clear fire, sprinkling it with a little salt and cayenne; rub a bit of fresh butter over it the moment it is taken from the tire, and send it quickly to table with a sauce made of a good slice of butter browned with flour, a little water, cayenne, salt, and mushroom-catsup, poured over it."
We give this receipt exactly as we received it from a house where we know it to have been greatly approved by various guests who have partaken of it there.

TO BAKE PEARS.
Wipe some large sound iron pears, arrange them on a dish with the stalk end upwards, put them into the oven after the bread is drawn, and let them remain all night. If well baked, they will be excellent, very sweet, and juicy, and much finer in flavour than those which are stewed or baked with sugar: the bon chr├ętien pear also is delicious
baked thus.

Tomorrow's Story …

The Second Day of Christmas.

Quotation for the Day ...

Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles. Anon.

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