That perennial wonder that we feel over each others' customs and traditions - during Winters' festivities the British celebrate with Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe. In North America there are Cranberries and Popcorn, the Turkey, and from the Middle East, sacred oil, oranges or fragrant spices. There are many types of family in North America, and together we have merged some of our celebratory enjoyment for the benefit of visiting friends, marriages into the family, for diplomacy, or for the special sacredness of appreciating the religious foundations of each others' morality and faith.
the Holly and the Ivy,
both sacred herbs from days of yore, I learned that the Holly represents the male vibration and that Ivy is that of the female. Traditional custom has it that whether Holly or Ivy are brought into a household first indicates who will rule the house in the year to come.
is the sacred plant of the Druids, and is used to celebrate Winter Solstice. A highly medicinal herb, it is not taken internally unless homeopathically, and, instead, hung over the doorway where the guests are invited to kiss the hosts. An old custom offers a berry per kiss to the visitor. When the berries are gone, the kisses are over with.
is derived from 'rol', meaning a wheel indicating the changing of the seasons.At Yuletide,Celts used to hold grand bonfires to welcome the return of the sun. When the Yule log is lit during Yuletide or Christmas, each member of the family makes a wish as the Yule is kindled with a piece of last years' log. The log burns for twelve hours.
originated in around 98 AD as a religious festival on the Bethlehem plains, held to celebrate the birth of Christ. The date was ordained in 350 AD and the celebration was originally intended to be a sober affair. At the time there were many Winter celebrations. Romans enjoyed two to three weeks of revelry during Saturnalia to honour the god of agriculture.Celtic and European tradition held The Winter Solstice as a holy time, and Persians made a tribute to Mithra. Teutonic tribes honoured the god Woden. Tremendous pagan merrymaking put a damper on the churchly affair of Christs' birth, and the fun festivals were eventually adopted by the Christian church through a process called "Christianizing". (One should investigate an herb which symbolizes the power of vox populi!! Hops, you say? The vox hopuli!)
The Wordsmyth.net dictionary definition of Hanukkah, for those who wish to be informed, is:
"eight day festival beginning on the 25th day of Kislev in which by lighting the minorah each night, Jews celebrate the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians, the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem, and the miracle of the lamp."
In the first century of the Christian era, a Jewish historical researcher called Josephus coined the term "Feast of Lights" for the days of Hanukkah.
The lighting of the menorah symbolizing the reclamation and rededication to the temple is a symbol of holiness in the world. Jews are told that they are the chosen people of the Creator, and that in lighting the candles they are symbolizing being chosen to provide a light for all nations ,or, in Hebrew, " La'Goyim ".
As the candles are lit, one, then the second, then three, etc,they are lit for the benefit of others, because increasing the light per day increases the holiness in the world.
The menorah once used in the temple was made of one solid piece of gold, and carried seven branches upon the top of which were vessels holding the oil to be lit .
In the temple which became rededicated to the One, once pulled away from the Hellenistic Syrians by the fightin' Maccabees,the menorah was lit once per day.
for Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the lamp. Dishes cooked with oil represent the phenomenon. When the Maccabees arrived (after winning against the Syrians) to rededicate the temple, there was oil left to light it for only one day, yet the flame in the lamp lasted eight days.
Traditionally, potato latkes are served. These are pancakes made with grated potatoes and a little matzah flour, fried in oil. There are of course many Jewish recipes for the season.
which can be refreshing with latkes are dill or mint. Chop fresh mint into yoghurt to serve with the delicious pancakes. Parsley root or leaf, pine nuts, nutmeats, juniper berries, sesame seed. mustard seed, orange and lemon are condiments which spark the taste and healthfulness of this Holidays' cooking. See below for kosher food links.
Perhaps you will make a guest comfortable by honouring the miracle of the lamp during a December 25 th brunch, serving the traditional latke with some excellent, light lunch. I made an herbal vinegar and dreamed up a quite complementary salad to plan for a special occasion. It is so refreshing that it is almost a good medicine to take as well as delicious.
In the Summer, I made a Black Walnut vinegar. It's easy.
Take one black walnut in its fresh green shell, and blanch this for 30 seconds in boiling water.
Drop into a good pint of boiled apple cider vinegar, add five whole cloves, a sprig of sage, pre-blanched orange peel, and some salt.
Let stand for a week before serving.
There is no time to try this now, unless you are in the Southern states, but you can fake it by using apple cider or balsamic vinegar with walnut oil in your salad.
Orange Essential oil can be purchased in health Food stores and Pharmacies, as can Orange Flower water.Combine the salad ingredients to provide a diplomatic "mincemeat" savour to vegetarians or those on a sugar-reduced diet. Drizzle the oil, vinegar and spice after the orange flower water.
The flavour is deeply rich and festive, a lovely complement ( in small doses) to a special luncheon. Serve with latkes, sour cream and mint, and pine nuts. You'll want to haul out the cranberries and maple syrup for those pancakes. Don't tell me you don't go for your good old regular fare!
Hanukkah Laws and Customs
copyright Sue Risk, Northdays Image 2004 - 2015