Yesterday it seemed like a good idea to join the community of Clovelly in their switching on of the Christmas lights celebration. That would be seemed. A lovely occasion but for some reason best known to myself, I failed to don my normal winter wear of a million thermal layers. We also arrived ridiculously early. Surely even I should have worked out that turning on lights and fireworks would require something resembling darkness? Unfortunately not. So I froze. Have already written note to self in next year’s diary along the lines of ‘on no account arrive before 4.30pm’ and ‘thermal socks required’. Clovelley’s cobbles may be iconic but the cold don’t half strike upwards from them! The Lapland holiday is looking increasingly like mid-life crisis madness.
The first half of the Cs for the advent calendar today and cake making for me, later than usual this year. For someone who can’t cook – and I do mean REALLY can’t cook – it is incongruous that I always make cakes and pudding.
Originally a ‘plum pottage’ was eaten at the end of a period of fasting on Christmas Eve. Spices, fruit and honey were added to make a celebratory dish and to represent the gifts of the wise men. Richer household, with ovens, converted this to a plum cake. Neither contained plums but they did include fruit such as raisins. This was traditionally eaten on Twelfth Night rather than Christmas Day. It didn’t become a Christmas Day cake until Twelfth Night celebrations were banned in 1870.
The use of candles at Christmas derives from the many light festivals that accompany the winter solstice in different traditions. In Victorian times, candles were placed, rather dangerously, on Christmas trees, before these gave way to electric fairy lights. Martin Luther is credited with being the first to add candles to an indoor tree in the C16th. He was trying to recreate the impression of the stars shining on the outdoor trees.
It is thought that sweets in the shape of shepherds’ crooks were first made in 1670 at the request of Cologne Cathedral’s choirmaster in order to quieten children during services. Candy canes were white until the beginning of the C20th. 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. Religious symbolism has been attached to the candy cane. The white is said to represent Christ’s purity and red His shed blood. Traditionally, the three red stripes are for the Holy Trinity.
The earliest reference to a Christmas card is thought to be that of 1843 in the diary of Henry Cole, director of V & A Museum. The first commercial design, by John Horsley, was issued in 1846 when 1000 copies were printed.