Getting into the Christmas Spirits

by Bob Sparrow

Thuringia, Germany

Suzanne’s blog last week mentioned that the town of Thuringia, Germany as the birthplace of Christmas decorations and also may be known for its beer, and that I would be more likely to write about that, the beer. Well if that wasn’t throwing down the gauntlet then I don’t know what was.  So . . . I did a little research on this quaint little town and have found that it is indeed steeped in Christmas traditions, among them is a keen appreciation of holiday hooch. To wit: During what they call the Advent season, which begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve, people there gather together and drink Gluhwein, a mixture of red wine, sugar and winter spices; add a shot of rum and you’ve got a Gluhwein mit Schuss, you’ve also got a headache in the morning.

So while you may not need a guide to traditional Christmas cheer like Peace on Earth Good Will Towards Men’ (and Women we presume) or as The Elf says, The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear”, I personally like Dave Barry’s Christmas cheer, “Once again we come to the holiday season, a deeply religious time that each of us observe in our own way by going to the mall of our choice.” There is of course the holiday cheer reminding us to Jingle all the way, no one likes a half-assed jingler.’

This blog however is about the ‘other’ Christmas cheer, the one that we can consume and often times helps us get into the Christmas spirit or simply helps us get through the ‘Holidaze’.  In the event you don’t have access to Gluhwein mit Schuss, here’s your imbibing guide to, and definitions of, some traditional Christmas cheer, along with their country of origin:

Christmas beer – Germany (official definition): A seasonal beer brewed for consumption at Christmas (Duh!). It is usually strong and spiced with a variety of ingredients including cinnamon, orange peel, cloves and vanilla.  I guess it’s still beer, it just doesn’t taste like it.

Wassail – England: The word comes from an Old English word for ‘healthful’ and is a beverage of hot mulled cider, originally not an alcoholic drink, but we took care of that little shortcoming as modern recipes start with a base of wine or mulled ale with either brandy or sherry added.

Hot Buttered Rum – Colonial America: How do you go wrong with butter and rum in anything? (These two ingredients along with some brown sugar and bananas makes a wonderful Bananas Foster dessert, but I digress).  This traditional holiday beverage is typically sweetened and spiced with such things as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Hot Buttered Rum

Hot Toddy – Ireland: Yes, a Hot Toddy is different from a Hot Buttered Rum, as it is made with whiskey, hot water and honey; some recipes add herbs and spices. Some believe it relieves the symptoms of a cold or flu as the honey soothes while the alcohol numbs. Forget CVS you need to get to BevMo.

If you’re not a traditionalist there are plenty of modern holiday cocktails that will definitely get you in the Christmas spirit, like a Poinsettia Spritz Punch, a Pomegranate and Peppermint Moscow Mule or a Gingerbread Latte with Caramel Sugar.  However, if you still find yourself in a ‘Bah Humbug’ mood, I’d recommend a shot of tequila and a regular beer back, no cinnamon, no cloves, no nutmeg.  Country of origin?  My house.

Hoping you get into the Christmas spirits one way or the other this season. Cheers!

 

THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

People may not agree on much these days, but I think everyone believes that life as we know it has become more stressful.  Over the past couple of weeks I noticed a strange manifestation of that – lots of people put up their Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.  Almost seems sacrilegious to me, but then I’m a big devotee of pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes so I don’t like anyone messing around with a holiday devoted to eating.  Still, I get it.  If an Elf on the Shelf or Hanukah menorah brings some joy to the world then I say go for it.  That said, I read the other day that the latest trend in decorations is the upside down Christmas tree.  I got to wondering … why?  Why mess with a perfectly good tradition that has held us in good stead lo these many years?  So I did some research, only to discover that upside down trees are believed to have been a “thing” dating back to ancient times.  History on this is a little sketchy since there was no official paper of record back in the Middle Ages but I’ll try my best to capture the genesis of this rather odd custom.

The history of the upside down Christmas Tree has its roots in the 7th century. It is during this period that St Boniface journeyed from Devonshire, England to Germany to preach the message of God.   He engaged himself in religious as well as social work and spent a lot of his time in Thuringia, a town believed to be the birthplace of the Christmas decoration industry.  So we can infer that Hallmark’s original corporate headquarters was, in fact, in Germany.  I think Thuringia is also known for beer but that’s a subject better covered by my brother.  It is believed that while St. Boniface was in Thuringia he used the triangular fir tree to represent the Holy Trinity as he tried to convert the pagan population.  One can only imagine what the native peoples thought of a guy trying to tell them that the local conifer had something to do with the Creation.  But apparently he was the Steve Jobs of his time because the converted people started to worship the Fir tree as God’s Tree.  By the 12th century it became a custom, especially in Europe, to hang the Fir trees upside down from the ceilings to symbolize the Holy Trinity. The Upside down Christmas Trees also signified that the household was one that practiced Christianity. That’s the best history has to offer us on the upside down tree.  The real history behind the hanging of Christmas Trees upside down still remains vague. Nowadays the tip of the Christmas Tree is made to point towards Heaven, as many think that an upside down Christmas tree is a sign of contempt.  Hmmmmm, given the current social climate, maybe that’s why the upside down tree has become popular.

In any event, my very limited search for upside down Christmas trees resulted in a very surprising discovery.  Walmart is selling a large variety of them this year online.  That wasn’t the surprising part since Walmart seems to sell everything.  The shock came when I looked at the price.  The most expensive one sells for an astounding $910.00!!  Apparently wanting to say “up yours” with your Christmas tree is not an inexpensive proposition.  The cheapest one was $150.00, which still seems like a lot of money for a fake tree.  The larger conundrum is WHO at Walmart is buying these trees?  If photos on the internet are to be believed, most Walmart shoppers wear holey sweat pants and muscle shirts with stains on them.  Definitely underwear is optional, and if worn, is usually peeking out of baggy pants or spandex tops three sizes too small for the wearer.  But who am I to question the marketing geniuses at Walmart? I’m just not sure that the typical Walmart shopper wants to fork over a week’s paycheck on a tree when they can furnish their entire house if they hit the blue light special just right.  Then again, I may be underestimating just how stupidly people can spend their money.  As for me, I’m on my out to buy “A Christmas Story” leg lamp.  Now that’s a smart investment.