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!



By Bob Sparrow and Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Last week we tried a new style of blog – “the interview”.  This week we are publishing another format that we hope to continue periodically in 2015 – “point-counterpoint”, or better known as when Bob gets to say, “Suz, you ignorant slut!”.

PointSuzanne (SW) Well, it’s that time of year again, when we are supposed to get in the “Christmas Spirit”.

Bob (BS): So far we’re in agreement; I’ve got a nice rum-spiced eggnog here, proceed.

SW: No, the other kind of Christmas spirit.

BS: Whiskey spiked cider?

SW: Moving right along, I’ve had a hard time finding the spirit this year, what with one thing or another; I think one of the reasons that “the spirit” is so hard to find is the advent of the Gift Card.

BS: Maybe Al is hiding ‘the spirits’ from you; sounds like you need a gift card for a hot-buttered rum

SW: (I’m ignoring him) It used to be so fun shopping for the perfect gift, wrapping it up and filling the space under the Christmas tree with beautiful and shiny packages. When the grandchildren were younger we would wrap up everything in cute paper with big bows and the fun of Christmas was watching them tear open the packages with wild abandon and shrieks of delight.  Heck, when they were really little, the box could provide them with an hour of fun.

BS: OK, I see what’s really going on here – you do realize that today’s little kids still get presents that are wrapped in shiny packages and put under the tree, they don’t get gift cards. Aren’t you really saying that unless you have young children around, who may still believe in Santa Claus, that Christmas morning isn’t quite the same? (Do we need a ‘Santa Spoiler Alert’ on this blog in the event that there are still some believers out there?). I don’t think the gift card is the Grinch that Stole Christmas, they have their place in today’s Christmas celebration – they are practical, easy to wrap, easy to hide, they travel well and ‘one size fits all’.

SW: I admit, they are very practical.  The recipient gets exactly what they want.  You don’t have to guess about size and color.  They can takegift advantage of the after-Christmas sales.

BS: I think you’re beginning to see the light.

SW: But still…buying gift cards elicits all the excitement of getting your oil changed.  You go into the grocery store, peruse the gift card rack, and BOOM! you’re done.

BS: That’s what I’m talking about!

SW: (I’m still ignoring him) I have a friend that refuses to give in to the gift card age and continues to buy gifts for her grown grandchildren.  Last year I asked her how that worked out and she said, “Oh, they return everything the next day.”  But she doesn’t care.  She loves the process of finding the gift, wrapping it up and watching as they open the package on Christmas morning.  I wish I had her fortitude.  I have to say:  I hate giving gift cards.

BS: The last time I wrapped a gift, it looked like a wet bow tie on a stack of old newspapers. On behalf of the male gender, who typically don’t like shopping to begin with, much less fighting the crowds this time of year, we love gift cards.   The gift card allows guys to do all their Christmas shopping in the grocery store from that gift card rack right next to the beer. Another advantage of the gift card is that you know exactly how much the giver values your relationship.

SW: You wouldn’t want to see the value of the gift card I’d get for you!

bob & suz

Your authors – Christmas 1972

BS: OK, there is no question that the gift card will never replace the wonder and excitement of a child unwrapping ‘that special gift’ on Christmas morning. I admit the gift card is indeed ‘less personal’, but like it or not, we live in a world that’s very different from the one we grew up in. I know it sounds trite, but I think the true ‘spirit’ of Christmas lies in the giving, no matter what; be it the perfect gift perfectly wrapped, a picture or another reminder of a wonderfully shared moment, a gift of your time to the less fortunate, or a gift card.  Giving is really the only thing that gets me in ‘the spirit’.

SW: I couldn’t agree more; my shared moment came the other night when I sat down with Dash the Wonder Dog to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.  I hadn’t seen it in several years and, of course, Dash had never seen it.  When Snoopy came on the screen Dash lifted up and tilted his head to one side so I explained the story to him (and yes, I really have gone around the bend).  And in that moment the Christmas spirit finally hit me – there I was on a rainy night, curled up with my sweet dog, listening to Linus simplify the whole season in his beautiful soliloquy:  “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men”.  It gets me every time.

BS/SW: We sincerely wish you and yours a very happy holiday season and may 2015 be filled with many blessings for you, including reading our blog and refereeing our “fights”!