Wednesday, December 12, 2018

It's #GingerbreadHouseDay and #NationalPoinsettiaDay #Christmas


Gingerbread House Day

Earlier in the fall, I was seriously considering trying out making a gingerbread house this year. Well, we're closer to Christmas and I'm now thinking probably not. Maybe next year. Looks like just Gingerbread men and cats this year. lol (Sprinkled through this post will be some gingerbread houses I found particularly enchanting.)

I did find this awesome book with step by step instructions, tips, etc. I checked it out at the library so I'll either check it out next year or I'll pick up a copy since this is something I will do at some point, perhaps next year.


by 
Christa Currie

I've been watching the Holiday Gingerbread Showdown on Food Network and I'm loving the creations some of the contestants have created. I believe the finale is this Sunday. 


How about some of the history behind gingerbread houses?

Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. It is unclear whether or not gingerbread houses were a result of the popular fairy tale, or vice versa.


Recently the record for world’s largest gingerbread house was broken. The previous record was set by the Mall of America in 2006. The new winning gingerbread house, spanning nearly 40,000 cubic feet, was erected at Traditions Golf Club in Bryan, Texas. The house required a building permit and was built much like a traditional house. 4,000 gingerbread bricks were used during its construction. To put that in perspective, a recipe for a house this size would include 1,800 pounds of butter and 1,080 ounces of ground ginger. Sounds more like a gingerbread resort! (Source: The History of Gingerbread)


National Poinsettia Day

I love poinsettias, but guess what? I can't have them sitting around because I have cats and they are poisonous to cats. I could do fake ones, but they're just not as pretty. Pout. I really love the variations of colors and they just have a calming effect when I see them.

Anyway, let's look at the history of the poinsettia and its connection to Christmas. (I will also sprinkle pretty poinsettia images for your enjoyment.)


The story of the poinsettia is one that spans hundreds of years and contains countless twists and turns as it wound its way into our holiday canon. Although it doesn’t pre-date Christianity like it’s Christmas counterparts, the holiday season wouldn’t be the same without the reds and greens of the poinsettia.

Cuetlaxochitl

For us to begin, we have to go all the way back to 14th century where the plant had a long history of medicinal use in pre-Hispanic Mexico. It was said that its milky white sap, called latex, could be used to reduce fever symptoms. The plant was so highly prized in Aztec culture that “Cuetlaxochitl,” as the plant was known, was also used to create red and purple dyes for clothing and textiles. It is said that Montezuma, the last of the Aztec emperors, was so captivated by the plant that he would have caravans of poinsettias shipped to the capital city of Teotihuacan because the plants could not grow at the high altitude.

However, it wasn’t until the 17th century that Cuetlaxochitl, now an established decorative plant in Mexican tradition, began its journey into Christmas traditions.

The journey began in the small town of Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico where Franciscan monks began using the shrub in their Nativity processions. Coincidentally, it is also around this time that the Mexican legend of Pepita and the ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’ began, forever tying the red and green shrub to Christmas folklore.

Pepita and the Poinsettia

As legend has it, a young girl named Pepita was traveling to her village to visit the Nativity scene at the chapel. Pepita did not have enough money to buy a present to give the baby Jesus at the services, however, and so she gathered a bundle of roadside weeds and formed a bouquet.

She was upset that she didn’t have more to offer, but she was reminded by her cousin that “even the most humble gift, given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes.” Upon entering the chapel and presenting her bouquet to the Nativity Jesus, the bouquet of roadside weeds miraculously turned into a bouquet of beautiful red flowers that the locals knew as Cuetlaxochitl.


Joel Roberts Poinsett

During this time, the poinsettia’s association with Christmas was almost entirely confined to small Mexican towns and their local folklore. It remained in relative obscurity for almost two hundred years before a man by the name of Joel Roberts Poinsett would introduce it to the United States and forever change the way we decorate for the holidays.

Joel Roberts Poinsett was a man of many talents. He was not only the first person to introduce the poinsettia to the United States, but he was the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, and was also a skilled and passionate botanist who co-founded the institution that we now call the Smithsonian Institute.

During one of his diplomatic trips to Mexico in the winter of 1828 on behalf of President John Quincy Adams, he visited the Taxco area where he wandered the beautiful countryside and became enchanted by the brilliant red leaves of an unfamiliar plant. Poinsett had kept a greenhouse on his property in South Carolina and began shipping the blooms back to his home where he studied and carefully cultivated the plants.

It wasn’t long before he began sharing the plants among his friends and colleagues around Christmas time when the upper leaves of the shrub would turn red. The reputation of the enchanting Christmas plants spread and soon a Pennsylvania nurseryman by the name of Robert Buist began to cultivate poinsettias. Buist would be the first to sell the plant to the public under its botanical name of Euphorbia Pulcherrima, and played a large role in helping to establish the plants Christmas reputation.

It wasn’t until about 1836 that the plant formally attained its popular name of ‘Poinsettia’ after the man who first brought the plant to the United States and ignited a holiday tradition that continues to this day.


A National Phenomenon

In the early 1900’s the poinsettia began to gain in popularity on a wide scale, when Paul Ecke Sr. developed the first poinsettia plants that could be grown indoors in grow pots. He began selling them at roadside stands in Hollywood, California, and in 1923 founded the Ecke Ranch that today provides the nearly 80 percent of the plants that are bought and sold in the country.

Today ,the poinsettia is the most popular plant sold during the holidays and the best-selling potted plant in the United States. Within a six-week period leading up to Christmas there are over 70 million poinsettias sold and nearly $250 million in poinsettia sales accounted for.

In July of 2002, the United States Congress created National Poinsettia Day on December 12th to honor the late Joel Roberts Poinsett who played a crucial role in making the poinsettia into the Holiday fixture that it is today. (Source: The Long, Strange Tale of the Poinsettia in Christmas Lore)

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Always in spirit...

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A special #Christmas Around the World for #StNicholasDay


Today is St. Nicholas Day so I thought I would share some of the traditions celebrated on the day around the world.

In Austria, parts of Germany, and Switzerland, der Heilige Nikolaus (or Pelznickel) brings his gifts for children on Nikolaustag, Dec. 6, not Dec. 25. Nowadays, St. Nicholas Day (der Nikolaustag) on Dec. 6 is a preliminary round for Christmas.

Nikolaustag – 6. Dezember
On the night of December 5 (in some places, the evening of Dec. 6), in small communities in Austria and the Catholic regions of Germany, a man dressed as der Heilige Nikolaus (St. Nicholas, who resembles a bishop and carries a staff) goes from house to house to bring small gifts to the children. Accompanying him are several ragged looking, devil-like Krampusse, who mildly or nor so mildly scare the children. Although Krampus/Knecht Ruprecht carries eine Rute (a switch), he usually only teases the children with it, while St. Nicholas hands out small gifts. In some regions, there are other names for both Nikolaus and Krampus (Knecht Ruprecht in northern Germany). As early as 1555, St. Nicholas brought gifts on Dec. 6, the only “Christmas” gift-giving time during the Middle Ages, and his companion, Knecht Ruprecht or Krampus, was a more ominous figure. In Alpine Europe Krampus is still a scary, devil-like figure. The Krampuslauf custom found in Austria and Bavaria also happens around December 5 or 6, but it also can take place at various times during November or December, depending on the community.

Nikolaus and his escorts don’t always make a personal appearance. In some places today, children still leave their shoes by the window or the door on the night of Dec. 5. They awaken the next day (Dec. 6) to discover small gifts and goodies stuffed into the shoes, left by St. Nicholas. This is similar to the American Santa Claus custom, although the dates are different. Also similar to American custom, the children may leave a wish list for Nikolaus to pass on to the Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas) or the Christkind for Christmas.



Slovakia

St. Nicholas´ Day is popular especially with children who are given presents of sweets and various small toys. According to this tradition they clean their shoes, put them on the window sill in the evening and the next morning they find a lovely surprise in them.

The customs associated to St. Nicholas´ Day (6th December) gradually developed into the form known nowadays.

One of the customs of an ancient origin was marching of the three men in masks. The first of them represented a goat led by the second man wrapped in straw. The third man had an effigy of a woman dressed in trousers with boots hanging from them tied on his back. When the man turned round the effigy was kicking the passers-by with its boots.

Another custom became frequent later. St. Nicholas with an angel and a devil went round the houses giving out presents or the “devils reward”.



Poland

In many Polish households, the morning of December 6th, in Polish referred to as Mikołajki, is a blissful moment. This is when children find small gifts under their pillows, in their slippers or (nowadays more and more often) in a stocking carefully hang out for that purpose the evening before. The gifts are usually tiny – small toys or sweets are the most popular option, since bigger presents are still yet to be given on Christmas eve, by the very same person – Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas or Santa Claus. So why does he visit Polish kids twice a year?

In the past it was on the Saint Nicholas feast when the little ones received gifts, and Poles generally did not hand out presents on Christmas Eve. With time, when the Western customs of giving major gifts around Christmas started to reach Poland, it became natural that Mikołajki is just a prelude to bigger celebrations starting on December 24th. In some parts of Poland it is easier to distinguish these two gift-giving occasions, as Saint Nicholas is so tired after his special day, that he is replaced by Angel or Snowflake around Christmas Day. Nonetheless, in general most Polish children get to meet him twice a year.

Source: Careers in Poland


Holland

In countries such as Holland, you will be able to find special St Nicholas Day boots to mark the occasion. They will then hope to wake to find them filled with small presents on the day.

Apples and coins are traditionally given to children on this day too and families will celebrate with a large meal on the day itself or on the eve. 

In some families, the father will dress up as Saint Nicholas on the eve before the special day.


Netherlands

Saint Nicholas is known as Sinterklaas, and there are a series of yearly parades across major towns and cities. 

During these parades, someone dresses up as Sinterklaas on a horse, boat, carriage, or even helicopter. 

Sinterklaas travels to hospitals, schools, and from home to home, leaving small gifts for well-behaved children.


Italy

Unmarried women who have not found their perfect match also receive gifts. 

They will partake in a special mass called Rito delle nubili. This is a ritual where they turn a column seven times, which is said to bring them good luck in finding a spouse. 

This comes from the story where Saint Nicholas dropped a bag from the chimney into a stocking for a poor man who was unable to afford dowries for his three daughters. This ensured they could get married.

Source: Metro


France

On the night of December 5th to the 6th, Saint Nicolas goes to houses to bring candy to good children (dried fruits, mandarin oranges, cakes, candies, chocolates and especially a large gingerbread cookie representing the Holy Bishop). In some households inspired by this tradition, he even replaces Santa Claus and brings the Christmas gifts.

He wears a long white beard, a miter and a crosier and a long coat, often purple (sometimes blue or red). He is accompanied by Father Flog: he is the opposite from Saint Nick. He is scary looking and distributes flogs to flog naughty children.

Source: French Today

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Do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day? Share your traditions in the comments.

Always in spirit...

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Christmas reading plans and #NationalCookieDay


Here it is a few days into December and I haven't even spread any cheer yet! Well, better late than never, right?

I did not get much Christmas reading in during the Christmas Spirit Readathon, but lucky for me, we still have the reading challenge going on. I have a nice stack of books lined up. Not sure if I'll get to them all (probably not), but at least I have a variety to choose from. I'm currently reading The Nutcracker and The Mistletoe Promise.


This Christmas Treasury came in my latest book order so I'm adding it to the list.


Today is National Cookie Day! In honor of the day, I'm sharing this Egg Nog Cookies recipe. I'll definitely be trying these out this year.


EGG NOG COOKIES

Ingredients
  • 1 c. softened butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. eggnog
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 3 and 3/4 c. flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • Frosting:
  • 1 and 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/4-1/2 c. eggnog (to spreading consistency
  • 1 tsp. light Karo Syrup
Instructions
  1. Mix together butter and sugar.
  2. Add in eggnog and egg.
  3. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.
  4. Chill for at least one hour.
  5. Drop by teaspoonfuls (I rolled mine for a second) onto greased baking sheet.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.
  7. When you pull them out out the oven, push tops with the bottom of a greased flat bottom glass to flatten a bit.
  8. Cool on drying rack.
  9. Frost with eggnog frosting and sprinkle with nutmeg (the karo syrup makes the frosting harden a bit when dry)
Image and recipe credit: Coupon Cravings

This week also has Cookie Cutter Week and Cookie Exchange Week going on. 

Here are some interesting cookie cutters I found around the web. 

For us bookish people, I adore this one (I'm thinking of getting it this year and making Christmas book stack cookies!). Book Stack Cookie Cutter


How about these Fred ABC (Already Been Chewed) Cookie Cutters. I just love these!



I love this set of three different types of Christmas trees cookie cutters. The bent over tree is adorable!


You may not have time to host a cookie exchange during this week, but you can do one any time during the holiday season. Tessa at Handle the Heat has some awesome ideas for hosting one...and free printables to boot. How to Host a Cookie Exchange.


Always in spirit...

Monday, November 19, 2018

Kicking off Sharing the Joy 2018 #Christmas


It's that time of year again! I'm so excited!

I hope you will join me in celebrating the season. As usual, I will be sharing Weekend Baking, Weekend Lit, Weekend Crafting...maybe even Friday Baking and Movies. Also, book reviews and other bookish posts...and Christmas Around the World posts. Gift ideas. Just all around festive cheer for my favorite time of year (I rhymed)!

If anyone would like to contribute a guest review, or guest post about anything Christmas-y, drop me a line via the contact link in the sidebar menu.

If you're looking for some ideas for new Christmas music this year, my friend Ken with The Sounds of Christmas was my guest in October and he shared all the new music coming out this year. You can read the post here. Don't forget to stop over and give The Sounds of Christmas a listen. Just click on their logo in the right sidebar.


If you didn't already know, the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge is going on again this year, through January 6th (Twelfth Night). You can sign up any time, even up until the last week of the challenge. Why not join us?

For those of your already signed up for the challenge, I will have the review page up soon with a link in the sidebar menu. Also, we have a Pinterest board you can access from the menu.

That's it for now. Looking forward to sharing the joy with you again this season!

Always in spirit...

Saturday, November 10, 2018

2018 #Christmas Spirit #Reading Challenge - Sign up!

It's that time of year again!

As usual, there are multiple levels for participation, like children's books and watching Christmas movies AND the Christmas Spirit Readathon is back again this year. Keep reading for details!

Details and sign up:
  • challenge will run from Monday, November 19, 2018 through Sunday, January 6, 2019 (Twelfth Night or Epiphany). 
  • cross over with other challenges is totally permitted AND encouraged! 
  • These must be Christmas novels, books about Christmas lore, a book of Christmas short stories or poems, books about Christmas crafts, and for the first time...a children's Christmas books level! 
Levels:
--Candy Cane: read 1 book
--Mistletoe: read 2-4 books
--Christmas Tree: read 5 or 6 books (this is the fanatic level...LOL!)

Additional levels:
--Fa La La La Films: watch a bunch or a few Christmas movies...it's up to you!
--Visions of Sugar Plums: read books with your children this season and share what you read

*the additional levels are optional, you still must complete one of the main reading levels above


  • The Christmas Spirit Readathon is back again this year. I'll be hosting once again over at Seasons of Reading also starting Monday, November 19 through Sunday, December 2! Details and sign-up can be found HERE.
  • the most important rule? Have fun!!! 
  • I will have a review linky posted as a page the day the challenge starts. You will find it at the top of the right sidebar. 
  • Sign up in the linky below (link to your post with your reading list...you can change up your list during the challenge...I just want to be able to stop by to welcome you and see what you plan to read).

One final note: The giveaway this year will be a $15 donation to the winner's choice of a human rights organization, such as the ACLU, Boys and Girls Club, Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Amnesty International, It Gets Better, Planned Parenthood, or another human rights organization of your choice, perhaps your local chapter or organization. This giveaway is open internationally.

I hope you will join me!

Grab a button...check the right sidebar...there's a grab code. And don't forget to check out the Readathon details at Seasons of Reading!


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Always in spirit...