For most of the year I harp on about food archaeology and the origination of ingredients, and for most of the year I think people switch off at the very thought of acknowledging todays achievements are down to the trials and tribulations of our past. After all we live in the modern world where we can’t find our way without sat nav.
Mobile phones have been welded to the palms of human hands that tap away telling everybody around the world what we had for lunch.
Cars have so many gadgets that people forget what an indicator is for!, and the computer offers so many ways to be social and interact with strangers that we have forgotten how to actually speak to each other in the street!.
So I can see and understand why people just aren’t interested in our past!.
Ha, well that is of course until we get to Christmas when the approach somewhat changes!.
After all how many people will give or receive a card depicting that perfect and somewhat romantic Victorian street scene with snow nestling on the mullioned windows, candle lights flickering as passers-by mingle with geese and horse drawn carriages?.
Then we have “crackers” that will no doubt be decorating most peoples festive tables, created by Mr Tom Smith, who was historically a London sweet shop owner.
At this particular juncture just close your eyes and think down the lines of “Worthers originals” TV advert for just a moment !.
Apparently back in 1847 Mr Smith spotted French bonbons wrapped in paper with a little twist at each end ,Tom liked the idea so much he copied and extended it by adding a “love motto” inside, how sweet !.
He then added a trinket and a bang !.
His “Bangs of Expectation” included gifts such as jewellery and miniature dolls and by 1900, he was selling 13 million a year!.
The rest as they say is history !.
Incidentally The largest cracker ever made was 45.72 Meters long and 3.04 meters wide (not sure how big the bang must have been!)
Then we have “Mistletoe”, thanks to ancient druids that believed mistletoe could cure illness, aid fertility and protect against witchcraft.
The tradition of kissing underneath mistletoe originates from Scandinavia ( if ever this nation needed an excuse !) and according to a Norse legend called “Loki”, who allegedly was an evil god, made an arrow out of mistletoe and used it to kill “Balder”, the sun god!. (I am sure the writers of Coronation street would like to get their hands on this festive story line !).
The mistletoe repented and was planted on a tree so it could do no more harm becoming instead a symbol of love!. Then there`s the “Tinsle”, surely this is a recent addition I hear you cry !, well actually no , as the first mass-produced Christmas decoration consisting of tinsel was made in Europe in the 1600s from sheets of silver alloy hammered until they were paper-thin and then cut into strips initially designed to reflect the light from candles and fireplaces.
Whilst on the subject of decorations, we can once again thank the Romans for introducing baubles as they had a custom of hanging fruit and baubles from green tree branches, the decorations were used to symbolise the fruits of the earth and the fiery sun. All of which leads me nicely to the tree itself, developed by German evangelist Martin Luther who first decorated a fir tree in 1510.
Queen Victoria’s German-born husband, Albert, brought the tradition of decorating a tree for Christmas to our shores around 1840, whilst the artificial trees were invented in the 1930s by the Addis Company, who manufactured them using spare machines in their toilet-brush factory! not sure all of that information will be on the TV drama “Victoria” over Christmas!.
The Holly and Ivy has been used to decorate homes since the 9th century because they symbolise everlasting life.
The holly represents Christ’s crown of thorns and the berries his blood. Ivy was also thought to protect a house against drunkenness, while holly was said to keep witches and tax collectors away. Note to self: must find some holly!.
Then there’s the food, where all the traditional goodies of centuries past re- appear as part of our annual luncheon celebrations and where demand for such tasty treats remain on most peoples menu of choice for ever and a day.
Such as Turkey!, well previously before the big bird flew into town, the favoured options were goose and cockerel or in the houses of the rich, peacock and swan.
The turkey was introduced into Europe from the New World in the 15th and 16th Centuries and because it was inexpensive and quick to fatten, it soon rose in popularity (especially with those large Victorian families!).
On the 25th Dec this year the UK will gobble down more than 10 million of the birds!.. Now it’s no secret that mince pies date back at least to medieval times and possibly long before, descending from a huge pie, baked on Christmas Eve, or smaller versions shaped like coffins containing chopped beef, suet, nuts, spices and whole dried plums.
Banned at one point by Oliver Cromwell, we now consume 300 Million over Xmas and I am sure Mr C would be turning in his own coffin at this very thought!.
One of my festive favourites has to be Christmas pudding also called plum pudding originating as a 14th Century ‘porridge’ of beef, mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, wine and mixed spices.
The pudding is traditionally stirred from east to west in honour of the Three Wise Men.
A 10p piece can be stirred into it to bring luck to the finder ( although the currency may no longer be valid tender by the time we get to the day itself!, and due to people chocking and even dying of this good find of fortune, the money has been left out of such recipes!, and is needed to purchase the pudding itself.
In fact more than £48,000,000 is spent on Christmas puddings across the UK each year!.
And finally an opportunity for me to release my inner Scrooge as £330 is the average amount a UK adult spends buying Christmas presents Bha Humbug !!.
Historically efforts by church leaders to outlaw the practice of giving gifts failed ( bhoo) and the Victorians brought a renewed vigour to gift offering on Christmas day itself.
Needless to say of which are now possibly all bought on-line!.
The moral of my story this month is that history is for life and not just for Christmas.
Have a wonderful time