Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Christmastide: The Full Twelve Days
Christmastide is a season, not a day or an eve. It is properly observed for twelve full days, culminating with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. Its object is Christ Jesus, the Saviour of mankind, who has come in flesh: 'Hark the Herald, Angels Sing! Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel', as the hymn puts it. Merrymaking and festal decor should remain in its place until the Epiphany. A sense of awe, glory and splendour should permeate this season of our Lord’s appearing.
And we observe Christmastide – not Christmas Eve or Day only – because the cumulative effects of the Incarnation absolutely require a prolonged period of pondering. One day or one evening just isn’t enough. And God knows it! We don’t just think about our Lord’s birth for a day and then move on, as it were. Christmastide is simply too rich to be reduced to one day.
The Incarnation, you see, is the keystone in the arch of the Christian faith. Everything builds upon God coming in Christ to redeem and restore humanity. No Incarnation means no redemption, and no redemption of humanity means no resurrection and no ascension. And no resurrection means, as St. Paul so aptly reminds us, ‘We are above all people, most pitiable’(I Cor 15:19).
Hence, the absolute necessity of this great season before us is self-evident, dear ones. The Incarnation ‘brings us joy, because when we experience blessing, freedom, righteousness, enrichment, wisdom, power and life through means so contrary to anything humans could ever conceive’, writes Luke T. Johnson, ‘we know we are in the hands of our God’.
Notice, too, the old English jingle ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ always adds another little lagniappe to the previous day's tally: drummers, pipers-a-piping, turtle doves, etc. all combine and must be repeated in the refrain until the last day, when I find it almost impossible to recall all that has been given. The gifts are too many to number! And I like this reminder. The blessings of Christmastide are truly innumerable!
But Christmastide begins, of course, with adoring the Christ-Child, our partridge in the pear tree, and ends on Epiphany, the great feast of our Lord’s manifestation to all peoples of the world.
Christmastide, then, actually gains momentum with each passing day; the gifts keep piling up as we steam our way to the Twelfth Night and the Epiphany. The Church Year, moreover, is well-seasoned, as it were, with important commemorations over these days, too (St. Stephen’s Day, St. John the Evangelist, Holy Innocents, the Holy Name, etc.).
Naturally, then, it is customary in many countries to mark the expanding joy of the Christmas season with a continual stream of gustatory delights. Our cookery should be reaching new heights over these holy days.
Will you consider completely celebrating Christmastide this year?
Above all, will you journey with the Magi this Christmastide, who, ‘On entering the house, they saw the Child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage’ (St. Matthew 2:11)?
You should also consider making this Southern staple, my take on my Aunt Paula’s homemade pecan pie. It’s easy, especially festal and fits the bill for Christmastide perfectly.
Christmastide Pecan Pie
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
3 TBSP brandy, rum or bourbon
1 cup + 2 TBSP sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 ounces pecans
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie crust*
*You can make your own following the very good recipe at http://www.thenewhomemaker.com/piecrust, or, alternatively, I have found the Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts to be quite sufficient for this recipe. These are not the frozen ones that are already shaped out; these are usually lurking by the cookie dough in the reach-in coolers of the supermarket. If you use the Pillsbury ones, I actually use two of them for this pie. Just fold them on top of one another and rub a little egg yolk to blend them. Don’t pre-cook them for this, though.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, brandy, butter and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into pie crust. Bake on centre rack of oven for one hour. The pie is officially done with it springs back to the touch, or, technically speaking, when the centre has reached about 195-205 degrees. Cool for 2 hours on wire rack before serving.