Christmas is held every year on December 25th. It is a Holy day to all Christian oriented people which has been set aside to celebrate the birth of their Savior, Jesus Christ, though it is not known exactly what day Jesus Christ was born on.
When the Christians were first starting out, oh, around the 4th Century, the Church Fathers decided that since the Pagans already were used to celebrating the "return" of the "Sun God" around this time every year, the easiest way to convert them to Christianity would be to then make Jesus Christ the new "Sun/Son" and thus celebrate His Birth at this time. So that many of the traditions associated with Christmas, actually come from the Pagan Tradition of Yule including the universal practice of decorating Christmas trees. (Though the lights are said to come from Martin Luther.)
As the story goes Martin Luther was walking home one winter night, composing a sermon, when he looked up to the star filled sky, and was awed by the brilliance of the stars shining through the evergreen trees. So to recapture the scene for his family he brought a tree into the main room of his house and wired lighted candles onto its it's branches. It was not until December 20th, 1821 however that the Christmas tree and all its assorted decorations were truly recognized in the United States, as the Puritans had tried to abolish any and all traditions associated with any Pagan Traditions. The German immigrants are the ones that actually brought the Christmas Tree Tradition to the United States in the 17th century, though it did not truly become popular until the 18th century.
Mistletoe and Holly also come from the Pagan Tradition of Yule. To "christianize" them, the meanings were converted appropriately. Mistletoe represented Jesus's death and rebirth, that life continues through the cold of Winter. With Holly the red berries symbolize the blood that Jesus shed for the salvation of the christian soul, the thorns on the holly are said to symbolize the Crown of Thorns that He wore.
Gift giving is said to come from many places, some say it heralds from the Pagan Tradition of Yule, others say that it is done in place of the Gifts that the Three Wise Men or Priest gave to the infant Jesus as he lay in the manger. Here is a recipe for Ginger Bread House, if you have a favorite Christmas recipe send it to me and I will share it with everyone.
Ginger Bread House
- 6 cups all purpose flour
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 2/3 cups shortening
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 eight-ounce container sour cream
- 2 eggs
To prepare dough: Into large bowl, ,measure 3 1/2 cups flour and remaining ingredients. With mixer at low speed, beat until well mixed, constantly scraping bowl with rubber spatula. With hand, knead in remaining 2 1/2 cups flour to make a soft dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours or until dough is not sticky and is of easy kneading consistency.
To roll dough: Keep refrigerated until ready to use. Working with half of a batch at a time on a lightly floured work surface with lightly floured hands, knead dough until smooth. Then on a greased and floured 17" x 14" cookie sheet, with lightly floured rolling pin roll dough to 3/16" or 1/8" thickness. You can use dowels of the same size at either side of the dough on the cookie sheet to help create a uniform thickness. (For easy rolling, place cookie sheet on a damp cloth to prevent it from slipping.)
To cut and bake dough: Make your pattern pieces of heavy cardboard. Lay them on the dough and using a sharp knife use as many pieces as you can from the rolled dough on your cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/2" inch between the pieces. Remove scraps and reserve for re-rolling. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (Place cookie sheet in the refrigerator if there is room while the oven preheats. Bake until golden brown and very firm when lightly touched with your finger. Remove cookie sheet from oven and cool on wire rack 5 minutes. Carefully remove the baked pieces from cookie sheet and place on wire rack to cool completely. Note: If you need to do some trimming do it while the cookie dough is warm out of the oven. You may need to make several batches of dough to complete your project, but don't multiply and try to do it all at once...the process just doesn't work that way.
To assure proper fit, check gingerbread pieces before assembling; if necessary shave edges witha rasp (sold in hardware stores) or a sharp knife. When assembling gingerbread pieces with icing, work with pastry bag with medium tip. Check vertical angles of major pieces with a right triangle or carpenter's square.
To attach right angle pieces: Pipe a line along the edge of one piece; press it against the adjoining piece and hold it in place for several minutes until the icing sets. Let dry thoroughly propping attached pieces with a sturdy small object. When dry, smooth seams with a damp cloth; fill in any spaces with more icing.
For extra stability, pipe icing along the inside seams as well. Allow to stand for an hour until the icing has completely dried before decorating.
ICING: (makes 2 cups, you'll probably have to make several batches)
- 3 egg whites
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 (16 oz box) confectioners powdered sugar
In a large bowl combine all ingredients. Beat 7 minutes with an electric mixer until smooth and thick.. A good test is when a knife blade drawn through the icing leave a clean cut. Store in a tightly sealed container if you are not using it right away. Color small batches of this icing as needed with Wilton decorating pastes, which are much more intense and not liquidy like liquid food colors.
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