It Smells Like Christmas!

It Smells Like Christmas cover

Oh, the sweet smell of Christmas! As it stimulates the sensory buttons, it also expands the visible waistline, but who cares, right? It’s the holidays, and it’s time to bake the best foods of the season – cookies (defined as small cakes)! So, just how did this 10,000-year-old medieval holiday phenomena get started? After all, Christmas celebrations always revolve around food. Let us feast now on the gingerbread cookie before the famine of the dreaded post-holiday diet begins in January.

Enjoy the festive tune of “Christmas Cookies” sung by George Strait!

Gingerbread was brought to Europe in 992 by an American monk and baked in the Scandinavian countries. Wooden molds were created for the dough in the image of saints and other religious characters. As a result, gingerbread served a religious purpose through the 17th century when it became a part of Christmas. This classic treat made of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and molasses still tastes strikingly similar to the Middle-Aged recipes. They were expensive to make and considered a delicacy, so only the wealthy could afford to give this delicious food away as gifts of good cheer. However, I will bet those cookies were not in the shape of men! Who came up with this idea?

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Wooden cookie molds used for gingerbread dough

 

The first person to try gingerbread men was none other than Queen Elizabeth I of England in the 16th century. She hired a royal gingerbread maker who designed the shape of foreign dignitaries for a dinner party. It was part of a scheme – say clever diplomacy, because Britain stood opposite Catholic France and Spain in a religious war. What better way to attract good tidings than to bake a caricature in their honor?

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During the time of the Queen’s reign, gingerbread men were also fed to folk-medicine practitioners. They created the cookies as love tokens for young women who ate them with the hope a man would fall in love with her. I wonder how many dozens of cookies a woman ate to carry out the act of marriage? Nuremberg, Germany later picked up on the romance of gingerbread and created heart-shaped cookies with romantic messages. They now hold the oldest gingerbread recipe, dating to the 16th century, in the Germanic National Museum.

Some countries also believe the little men made of ginger root has a religious undertone. Since men are more toddler-shaped than adult stature, they represent the baby Jesus at Christmas. The spices used to make the cookie represent the exotic gifts of the Magi.
As gingerbread entered America, many recipes expanded into different kinds of desserts. George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, produced the first Gingerbread Cake in 1784. The recipe, shown below, will use every single bowl in your kitchen so prepare to spend a whole day baking and cleaning dishes. But for our readers who enjoy historical food, this will be so worth the effort!

It Smells Like Christmas recipe

This image may be difficult to read on a cell phone. Please feel free to email us at a_bicks@yahoo.com for a full version of the recipe.

Soon after Mary Washington’s release of her cake, gingerbread houses became a favorite pastime. These delightful little creations became particularly admired as Christmas decorations for the German population of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The witch’s candy cottage in the fairytale, Hansel and Gretel, inspired the design of these houses. Today, they are a work of art. It requires building a prototype of the house out of paper or wood first, then baking at those specifications. There is no better place to witness the ingenuity of these bakers than in Asheville, North Carolina at the National Gingerbread House Competition.

Yes, it smells like Christmas! Let us use the tasty treats and desserts this holiday to show hospitality to strangers and demonstrate fellowship to believers. It doesn’t have to be gingerbread but any kind of special treat. Give the gift of community and affection.

Happy baking and Merry Christmas!

Come back for more “Everything Christmas Blogs” on Thursday, November 15th!

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A Christmas Celestial Event

A Christmas Celestial Event cover

A perfect scene… a star like none other, sitting above a stable in the peaceful night and it’s announcing the birth of a holy Messiah. The Gospel of Matthew was the only book in the Bible which described “The Star of Bethlehem” occurrence:

A Christmas Celestial Event verse

What did the wise men witness in the sky that night? Was it real? Was it a star, a comet, or something else? The magi were skilled astrologers and scholars, so their fixation was not in the stars, but on large astronomical events which they believed would predict something happening. But why were they the only men to witness and describe a star guiding them? If they were well trained then why didn’t they understand what they saw in the sky?

Many astrologers of 2,000 years ago, the Chinese, Korean, and Babylonians, documented the heavens because they placed predictions based on events. The writings recorded then, are in a constant review by our astronomers today, and theories abound. But, one thing is for sure, no answer or explanation for this divine incident is clear. Here are the details I discovered, and you may come to your own conclusion.

Enjoy the beautiful song, “Star of Bethlehem”:

I know little of astronomy, but for certain, stars do not move relative to themselves. Planets continuously shift through the solar system. Based on this, how, then, did the sacred star move, leading the magi to Bethlehem? One theory suggests a heliacal rising. The planets Jupiter and Venus lapped each other while moving through the background stars. If the sun caught up to one of the planets, the planet would disappear until the sun moved far enough away from it. Then it would reappear shockingly bright in the sky, just before sunrise. Historical records show this exact occurrence on April 17 of 6 BC to December 19 of 6 BC. But, this natural alignment of planets, sun, and earth would not create a long, extended tail to the ground such as the one described by the magi.

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A heliacal rising

A second theory suggests a comet. This seems to be the most logical explanation because it can hang over a city or land mass as did Halley’s Comet on March 8, 1986. Historical astronomy records revealed a tailed comet in the timeframe of the magi’s travels, and it lasted for seventy days. However, from Jerusalem’s vantage point, the comet would have been in the southern sky with the head close to the horizon and the tail pointing upward. The magi described the “Star of Bethlehem” as one they never seen before and comets were frequent visitors in their galaxy. So, as scholarly astrologers, why couldn’t the magi tell the difference between a comet and a star? Apparently, something confused their decision.

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Image of Halley’s Comet

A final theory suggests the birth of a star, known as a nova. It certainly matched the biblical description. Once again, Chinese historical records reveal a new star was born in the northern constellation of Aquila in 4 BC. During the time the three wise men traveled from Jerusalem, the star would have lit their sky south into Bethlehem and not in the west. This explains why no one else witnessed this bright star. However, the star did not move, and it certainly didn’t stand over the city of Bethlehem; nor would it have stayed bright for the one to two years they took to find Jesus.

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Image of Supernova

Revealing all the facts described in this blog, I will stand on my own theory. The Star of Bethlehem was an incredible act of God and one created for a unique purpose. God can use natural law to carry out His will because He is not bound by the laws He created for this world. When you think of the whole miraculous event of Jesus’s birth, a special star is not beyond His scope. What do you think?

Please join us again on Tuesday, November 13th for another, Everything Christmas Blog!


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