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Christmas is not over yet. Tonight is Twelfth Night. Tomorrow is Epiphany.

Twelfth Night or Epiphany Eve is a festival in some branches of Christianity marking the coming of the Epiphany, and concluding the Twelve Days of Christmas. It is defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as “the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking”.[1]

The celebration of Epiphany, the adoration of the Magi, is marked in some cultures by the exchange of gifts, and Twelfth Night, as the eve or vigil of Epiphany, takes on a similar significance to Christmas Eve.

The way to observe Twelfth Night is by ‘merrymaking’. And there’s a fellow called the Lord of Misrule who can help in doing just that.

The Lord of Misrule symbolizes the world turning upside down. On this day the King and all those who were high would become the peasants and vice versa. At the beginning of the twelfth night festival a cake which contained a bean was eaten. The person who found the bean would run the feast. Midnight signaled the end of his rule and the world would return to normal.

King Cakes are a tradition, as is a drink called Lamb’s Wool. One can even go wassailing. One may even want to go wassailing after drinking enough Lamb’s Wool.

In one form of wassail, called Lamb’s Wool, ale or dark beer was whipped to form a surface froth in which floated roasted crab apples. The hissing pulp bursting from them resembled wool. Shakespeare alluded to Lamb’s Wool in Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Sometimes lurk I in the gossip’s bowl
In very likeness of a roasted crab
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob,
And down her withered dewlap pours the ale.
Likewise in Love’s Labour’s Lost:
When all aloud the wind doth blow
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit,
Tu-who—a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Roasted crabs and greasy Joan. What a party indeed!

But some people say that the luscious name ‘Lambs Wool’ comes not from how the drink looks but from other things.

The old Celtic name was lamh’s suil (hand and eye), so named for the labor of the hand required . . .

But then again, this night, Twelfth Night – has been the cause of  unhappiness in the past for some people.

At the beginning of January 400, Asterius, bishop of Amasea in Pontus (Amasya, Turkey) preached a sermon against the Feast of Kalends (“this foolish and harmful delight”) that tells a lot about the Lord of Misrule in Late Antiquity. It contrasted with the Christian celebration held, not by chance, on the adjoining day:

We celebrate the birth of Christ, since at this time God manifested himself in the flesh. We celebrate the Feast of Lights (Epiphany), since by the forgiveness of our sins we are led forth from the dark prison of our former life into a life of light and uprightness.

Significantly, for Asterius the Christian feast was explicitly an entry from darkness into light, and although no conscious solar nature could have been expressed, it is certainly the renewed light at midwinter, which was celebrated among Roman pagans, officially from the time of Aurelian, as the “festival of the birth of the Unconquered Sun”. Meanwhile throughout the city of Amasea, although entry into the temples and holy places had been forbidden by the decree of Theodosius I (391), the festival of gift-giving when “all is noise and tumult” in “a rejoicing over the new year” with a kiss and the gift of a coin, went on all around, to the intense disgust and scorn of the bishop:

This is misnamed a feast, being full of annoyance; since going out-of-doors is burdensome, and staying within doors is not undisturbed. For the common vagrants and the jugglers of the stage, dividing themselves into squads and hordes, hang about every house. The gates of public officials they besiege with especial persistence, actually shouting and clapping their hands until he that is beleaguered within, exhausted, throws out to them whatever money he has and even what is not his own. And these mendicants going from door to door follow one after another, and, until late in the evening, there is no relief from this nuisance. For crowd succeeds crowd, and shout, shout, and loss, loss.

Though it was no use clamoring at the bishop’s gate, apparently, part of the celebration of this pre-medieval Lord of Misrule included the equivalent of the Waits who went from hall to hall:

This festival teaches even the little children, artless and simple, to be greedy, and accustoms them to go from house to house and to offer novel gifts, fruits covered with silver tinsel. For these they receive in return gifts double their value.

Hmmm. Well. A little bit of Lambs Wool won’t hurt, I don’t think, while I muse on all this.

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I love QQ food. I love Q food too.

Q is not a question. Q is a texture. Or as expressed much more succinctly and beautifully by Zoe Tribur in the Spring 2006 issue of Gastronomica

QQ is a unique oral sensation that
cannot be mistaken for any other. When you put something
in your mouth—cold or warm, salty or sweet, dry or wet,
it doesn’t matter—if the substance first pushes back as you
seize it with your teeth, then firms up for just a moment
before yielding magnanimously to part, with surprising ease
and goodwill, from the cleaving corners of your mandibles—
that is Q.

Many people do not like Q food. It is somewhat alien to the palate of the eater exposed solely to the foodways of the middle-class United States.

That’s okay. More for me. 🙂

I’ve found a recipe for a Q food served at the Winter Solstice way over on the other side of the world. Tang Yuen. It looks delicious. Yay, tang yuen!

It is a few days past the Winter Solstice, but better late than never. Perhaps this will be the start of a new tradition – our own post-Christmas Tang Yuen party!

Note: The article in Gastronomica on Q is downloadable as a PDF file. It is titled ‘Taste’ by Zoe Tribur and is definitely worth reading, for any gastro of any astral sphere.

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How our shoes define us! (Maybe even moreso than our haircuts? Arguable.)

Link to the online boutique of Jean-Paul Hevin, Master Choclatier

The feminist in me growls at this shoe. The image, the pain, the everything! The girl in me purrs at this shoe. My god. Or rather my goddess. How gorgeous. The chef in me bows in deep admiration at this shoe. My highest accomplishment in chocolate work was a chocolate cabbage (which is rather simple to make, if anyone wants to know). And the chocolate-lover in me wants to take a big bite of this shoe, if only I could dare to!

There was an old woman
Who lived in a shoe;
She had so many children,
She didn’t know what to do.
She gave them some broth,
Without any bread.
She whipped them all soundly,
And sent them to bed.

No, this was not the shoe of the old woman in that nursery rhyme.

Poverty is a hurtful thing. And those who can not afford chocolate shoes at this time, with all the careening power of the information superhighway slamming at them in every arena of life that they must do so, that they should do so – may be hurting right now.

Strangely, this hurt can come not from lack of anything really important or necessary but merely from the comparisons made between ‘them’ and ‘the Joneses’.

I know of no old woman who whips their children but I do know of a man who hits his wife at this time of year. He is angry. The anger is brought on by the season.

The season has its beauties, but every beautiful thing has a flip side.

I hope that nobody reading this (and nobody not reading this, for that matter!) has let the flip side bite them.

Chocolate shoes are fantastic things. But even better is peace of mind.

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(This is Part 5 of 5, of ‘The Way of Three Mothers at Christmas‘)
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My other two mothers, the ones whose stories have been told, were Rida and Ada. Naturally, following my rather far-fetched reasoning process, these names came from the Magi.

the Armenians have Kagpha, Badadakharida and Badadilma

Rida from Badadakharida; Ada from Badadilma.

I’ve saved the name Kagpha for my ‘real’ mother. It suits her well.

As Christmas approached each year, Kagpha grew slightly more frozen than usual. Thanksgiving was a task managed, but then Christmas arrived so quickly.

The important things about Christmas to Kagpha were that it not be celebrated as a religious holiday (for she did not like churches) and that there be a tree – one that was not real (too messy) – and that it be covered with ornaments that were artistic and ‘different’.

She mostly looked forward to the holiday as a time when there would be the chance to travel home, or to where home was as a child – where her brother and his wife and children lived. This took all pressure off the holiday, for her brother’s wife was (as she noted with a certain tone in her voice) a ‘housewife’. This meant that Kagpha would be able to sit on the couch in her more and more frozen-like state, as the activity went on around her, without her participation.

Kagpha may have suffered from depression. Or, it may also have been what her brother claimed: That she was simply a deeply selfish person.

Things got worse than mere frozen-ness, as Christmas came along over the years. Instead of frozen-ness Kagpha had a sense of airy-ness – as if she simply wasn’t there. Then there was a switch, and Christmas-time became a time to celebrate the season as a Wiccan. My mother had decided she was a witch.

She gathered women around her for pagan lunches and dinners, and flaunted jewelry with bold symbols hung over her black dresses that would make those who practiced more traditional religions cringe with fear and distaste. Her anger grew outward.

But these times passed, and being a witch turned out to be not all it was chalked up to be, for Kagpha. The pagan celebrations were discarded, and in their place was nothing.

The last Christmas I remember with Kagpha, she said she did not want to cook. She did not want to buy presents. She did not want to do anything, she said – but the undertones in her voice belied the words.

So I made a dinner. A ham, some vegetables – fresh and good. Two desserts. And I brought it to Kagpha and hoped it would make her happy.

It did, but then there was the ham bone to deal with. The ham bone. Kagpha wanted to know if I wanted the ham bone. Why, yes – I said. I’ll take it home with me next time I see you, if that’s okay. I don’t really feel like carrying a ham bone home right now. Could you stick it in the freezer?

Kagpha’s freezer was empty but for two packages of Stouffer’s Welsh Rarebit, so I thought that would be okay.

But the ham bone was not to be forgotten. The ham bone was in her freezer, and it bothered her. The phone calls started coming every few days, then every day, then several times a day.

When are you coming to get the ham bone? Kagpha would ask. The ham bone is in my freezer! she would say, with hints of anger at the edges of her voice. How long do you expect me to keep this here???!!! she would close-to-shriek, over the telephone – the telephone which I now feared to answer.

Gathering my courage to face Kagpha, my mother, my only real mother – I called her. Please throw it away, I said. I don’t want it. Thanks, for the freezer space.

Christmas. It had come down to a ham bone which had somehow transformed into a scapegoat, for Kagpha.

Kagpha’s gift offered was the chance to develop empathy. There is often someone around who may need it.
………………………………………………………………………………

Each mother has a Christmas food associated with her. Rida: Sausage Bread. Ada: A dish of rich delicious bitter greens with garlic. Kagpha: Well – nothing will ever erase that ham bone from my memory, that is certain.

I’ve had three mothers at Christmas. I’ve been lucky in that way.

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(This is Part 4 of ‘The Way of Three Mothers at Christmas’)
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Ada had been cooking food for tables filled with people for as long as she could remember. That memory extended back to the small farm in Italy that was said goodbye to while still a child, to emigrate to America.

With six children now grown, Ada looked forward to each Christmas as a time to gather them all back together around in the home they had grown up in – the four brothers in one bedroom, the two sisters in another.

Christmas dinner was somewhat larger than her usual meals. Two or three kinds of meat, a baked pasta, three or four vegetable dishes – but there was no set or insisted-upon format. It was the food she cooked each day, just gathered together in a larger way. The china was not decorated with a Christmas theme,  but the tablecloth was old, linen, and full of memories. It was difficult for everyone to fit around the table, scrunched together on the bench lining one side of the long table, yet they did somehow, often taking turns – one slipping in here or there, another wandering into the kitchen to nibble and talk at the smaller  table there piled with food and spoons and newspapers and clutter.

It was comfortable at Ada’s Christmas dinner. People talked and ate and drank, and they even yelled sometimes to get themselves heard over the others. Laughter rang out and conversation flew as if it were the surrounding air itself. There were angers and resentments in this family, deep ones – but they could wait till later. Right now, they were simply suspended.

Ada, for once, sat down.

Ada never sat down when people were eating. It seemed an impossibility, against the laws of nature. As Mother, she swooped around and fussed and fed and questioned and demanded. But at Christmas she sat down, and it was like a small miracle happening right before one’s eyes,  blinked at in momentary disbelief.

Dinner was the thing on this day. The wrapped Christmas presents were few, small, desultory. And the dinner was all about the table, where everyone would gather.

The same stories were told year after year. Ada held pride of place with the story of her family coming to America on a big boat all together, and of  how soon all of them were working at menial jobs, all seven brothers and sisters – to send the oldest son to college. Then of how when this revered eldest brother  graduated with the degree bought by his siblings labors – he had disappeared from the family without a how-do-ye-do, without the promise of return of favors in any way at all.

And this was true. He had done this. And as he lived far apart from his family, wealthy and well-positioned, his no-longer-young sister remembered him. “It was America”, she would announce, “America”.

“It breaks the family. This never would have happened in Italy!” and everyone would listen and try to understand something for which there really was no understanding.

Ada chose to put the blame on the place, rather than on the person. Was there an answer? All we knew was that this man who was not here was missing out on something – and we looked at Ada’s son whom she had given her brother’s name. And we held it all in our hearts.

Another story of a Christmas long ago, when all six children were school-age was told – sometimes by Ada, more often by one of her children.

Ada had suddenly decided that this year, they would go to Mass on Christmas. Often they didn’t. Time was always short, things were always running late. The family never seemed to make it anywhere on time. Remembering this brought peals of laughter from most of the table.

On this year now long past, they would go to Mass, and not only would they go, Ada decided, they would go in style. People would see what this family was all about!

Ada bought fabric and made space for her sewing machine between the children’s schoolwork and the spoons and the newspapers on the table. And she cut and sewed for some number of days.

On Christmas morning, she insisted everyone be up early. Calling them downstairs, she held out a stack of black bundles. “Here”, she said. And each of the six children, from the littlest four-year old to the eldest fifteen-year old, was given a bundle. “Put these on, quick! And we’ll go.”

Some of her children were mortified. Some of her children were thrilled. What they had to wear to Mass that day, each boy and girl, were six matching black capes and six matching black berets.

Where had that idea entered her head?

The story of Madeleine perhaps? Where children wore capes . . . and where

In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines

Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines

In two straight lines they broke their bread

Brushed their teeth

And went to bed

The capes and berets did not bring the children into two straight lines. They remained, as Ada would say (with a look of wonder and sheer motherly pride): “Like spokes on a wheel – all different, each one going a different way.”

My mother Ada’s Christmas gift was not the food. It was not piles of shiny wrapped presents.

Her gift was of a table baited with food, leading those captured right to the brink of some stories, the sort of stories that can (and that must, at times) sustain us.

(To read the final installation of ‘The Way of Three Mothers at Christmas’ click here)

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(This is Part 3 of ‘The Way of Three Mothers at Christmas’)

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Christmas was no joke to Rida.

What it was, was a hell of a lot of work.

It all began shortly before Thanksgiving and then progressed, as if drawn out on a blueprint.

At least the menu didn’t need planning. The menu for Christmas dinner was set in stone. Rida’s family were accustomed to certain things, and they expected these things to be the same each year.

A few times over the years Rida had tried new recipes, wanting to show a bit of creativity.

As she diced and chopped and stirred she imagined all the faces around the dinner table at Christmas. They would all break into wide smiles of enjoyment and the chatter of discussion would rise merrily about the new dish, as it was passed from hand to hand. The voices were filled with admiration.

When she did try some of these new foods, the grumblings and displeased faces that rose instead of what she had imagined shocked her slightly. But Rida was not by any means a drama queen. She just nodded, with a slightly guilty air. She said “Oh. Okay. I won’t make it again” and the offending New Recipe was moved quietly over to the sideboard, to be discarded at the end of the meal, with a bit of a longing glance from Rida as it went into the kitchen trash bin.

It was Christmas, after all. Her family deserved to be happy.

But still, she thought – there might be something she could make to add to the Christmas dinner table that would spark life into the dinner. It was a good dinner as it was, but always the same.

It never seemed as if everyone were completely comfortable, but this was Christmas dinner. Somebody was usually angry at someone else for some minor reason, and the food did not make this disappear – as much as Rida would have loved it to do so.

The new recipes tried now and then became smaller, more self-effacing. Instead of the extra main course, a vegetable side. Instead of a vegetable side, a relish. Instead of a relish . . . instead of a relish. Nothing, really – instead of a relish.

At other times of the year, the table that would hold the Christmas dinner was just a deserted table, unused, sitting in a room nobody ever entered. The rarely used good linens were stored in the chest, the decorative china received as wedding gifts firmly stuck behind the glass windows on shelves – that sometimes needed dusting – in the big solid piece of matching furniture which sat firmly on the other side of the room.

The view from the window was so pretty in this room. When it snowed, the panorama was just like a painting.

It was perfect.

But the table during the days before Christmas became a workhorse.

The day immediately after Thanksgiving, it sprouted a life of its own. Rolls of wrapping paper, tape, and ribbons grew in neat piles upon it. Boxes and piles of gifts for her family were laid at the other end, and the serious endeavor of preparing dozens of gifts (or maybe hundreds? it seemed there were hundreds of gifts under the tree on Christmas – the unwrapping took all day long) began. The gifts were destined to be stacked into huge piles of colored shiny exuberance under the lit tree in the front room that close-to-hit the ceiling.

The wrapping and be-ribboning and labeling started in between many trips to the mall to buy the gifts, the army of gifts the table held close – all tucked away in the room that nobody went into, till their holiday dinner had begun.

Rida moved quickly at these tasks, for though she was a homemaker, a housewife – without a job or profession in the outside world – her usual tasks remained to be done. The house had to be cleaned and dusted each day. The clothes laundered – her husband’s shirts starched just so, with heavy starch crisply formalizing the edges of cuff and collar into impermeable immovable stiffness.

Dinner had to be on the table (the kitchen table) at 6:30 each evening. Her husband would become upset if it was not. He expected his dinner at 6:30.

And the usual taking-care of the house, little things . . . like making sure nobody ran out of batteries or toothpaste – that had to be kept up with. “Buy two – always have backup” was the rule set by Rida’s husband, for nothing should ever run out . . . and Rida still went to Mass at least twice a week – for that was where God lived. He lived in the church, with the priest named ‘Father’.

Christmas expanded outwards from the workhorse table during the second week of December. It spilled out onto Rida’s kitchen table. The cards draped themselves together, falling sideways, entangled with stamps and envelopes and pens, handwritten notes to be done on each singular one, then the whole to be neatened up and hidden away before dinner preparations were started.

Somehow it all marched forward in an orderly and calm fashion. Everything got done.

Christmas came but once a year.

And at the end of it all, Rida had once more given her family a Christmas to remember.

Her gifts were apparent to all. A perfect Christmas, just as everyone expected!

There was an extra gift hidden within this perfect Christmas. Two gifts, really.

One was the gift to her children and husband.  They knew they could rely on her completely.

The other gift, more hidden in the recesses of things, tucked into the corners of wrapping paper and ribbons, peas and ham – under postage stamps and licked onto the glued flaps of envelopes – was a gift to anyone who wanted to recognize it. It was something to be considered, held, and mulled over – wondering if it was an example to be followed. Or not.

It was the not-small gift of selfless devotion.

That was one Mother’s Christmas, balanced ever-so-discreetly on the head of a pin . . . along with who knows how many angels.

(To read further click on Part Four here)

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(This is Part Two of ‘The Way of Three Mothers at Christmas’)

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The word Magi is a Latinization of the plural of the Greek word magos (μαγος pl. μαγοι), itself from Old Persian maguŝ from the Avestan moγu. The term is a specific occupational title referring to the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism. As part of their religion, these priests paid particular attention to the stars, and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was at that time a highly regarded science. Their religious practices and use of astrological sciences caused derivatives of the term Magi to be applied to the occult in general and led to the English term magic.*

Magic does exist. It exists at the edges of things, in curved angles and tiny corners.

You can see it in a fleeting spark and remember it for years.

I have to give my three mothers new names. Three mothers, three Magi.

In the Eastern church a variety of different names are given for the three, but in the West the names have been settled since the 8th century as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. These derive from an early 6th century Greek manuscript in Alexandria.[2] The Latin text Collectanea et Flores[3] continues the tradition of three kings and their names and gives additional details. This text is said to be from the 8th century, of Irish origin.

In the Eastern churches, Ethiopian Christianity, for instance, has Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater, while the Armenians have Kagpha, Badadakharida and Badadilma.[4][5] One of these names is obviously Persian, although Caspar is also sometimes given as Gaspar or Jasper. One candidate for the origin of the name Caspar appears in the Acts of Thomas as Gondophares (AD 21 – c.AD 47), i.e., Gudapharasa (from which ‘Caspar’ might derive as corruption of ‘Gaspar’). This Gondophares declared independence from the Arsacids to become the first Indo-Parthian king and who was allegedly visited by Thomas the Apostle. Christian legend may have chosen Gondofarr simply because he was an eastern king living in the right time period.

In contrast, the Syrian Christians name the Magi Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas. These names have a far greater likelihood of being originally Persian, though that does not, of course, guarantee their authenticity.*

Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar. Hor (no), Karsudan (no – reminds me of the Kardashians), Basanter. Kagpha (dramatic!), Badadakharida (musical), Badadilma. Larvandad, Gusnasaph, Hormisdas.

That’s a lot to work with.

Which would you choose, for three new names for three mothers at Christmas, if you had to choose?

Names are important. This needs to be thought out.

(*Source: Wikipedia)

(To read further click on Part Three here)

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