And so it begins. Gently first and then perhaps rising to a persistent but congenial frenzy. The run-up to Christmas.
By now, "Stir-up Sunday" has been and gone. It's a day that's defined in the Anglican church as the last Sunday before Advent, its dedicated prayer beseeching that our wills be "stirred up" and that people "plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works" but, more commonly, the day is associated with Christmas puddings. Puddings and cakes, stuffed with rich dried fruit, need may strong hands to stir them. It's traditional to make a wish! Whatever the calendar says, it's nevery really too late to make a cake or a pudding, though these intensely fruity concoctions can benefit from long gestation. Some people even make their puddings a whole year ahead.
Some of our most treasured traditions are of course relatively recent - dating back, at least in these islands, only until the 19th century or so: the roast turkey dinner; the Christmas tree. The studded puddings and cakes, heavy with fruit and spice, come from further back in time. Northern Europe looks to warming foods at this time of year, for obvious reasons. The disappearance of the sun in winter prompted many ancient rituals, many involving ingredients such as honey and spice which enlivened and warmed the darkening days. A warm and cosy kitchen is the place to be as the weather draws in. Our early brush with deepest winter has reminded many of us that home is the best (and for us and many others in recent days, the only possible) place to be!
Breads too, from all over Northern Europe carry on the traditions of celebration, warmth and luxury - for Christmas is the time to pull out all the stops and spare no expense. At the bakery we are celebrating these long-held customs with our seasonal selection. In addition to our traditional handmade mince pies (original or spelt), we are also making Stollen - the German bread that's somewhere between a loaf and a cake, with a rope of marzipan symbolising the Babty Jesus running the length of the loaf - the surrounding heavily fruited dough is meant to be the swaddling clothes. The whole loaf is brushed with melted butter and dusted with icing sugar. Another of our Christmas breads is the Vánocka, from the Czech Republic. This is a spectacular compound plait topped with flaked almonds. Finally, our Festive Sussex Cob is redolent with cardamom, honey, orange zest, and Harvey's of Lewes Old Ale (those luxury ingredients again) - cheers!
European celebrations surrounding Christmas begin with Advent at the start of December and carry on right through the month and on past the New Year to Epiphany on the 6th of January. Different places celebrate in different ways and on different days - for many it is the 24th of December and not the 25th that is the main event. But no matter the specific ways and varied traditions, across these differences there is a commitment to replulse the darkness and find a light that shines through - whether with deep religious overtones or with the simple conviviality of a meal shared with family and friends. This is true of the winter festivals of other faiths and not only of Chirstianity.
However you celebrate the festive season, we hope you enjoy it to the full, with joy and peace that carries on through the year. Season's Greetings from the Lighthouse Bakery!