I’m not going to bore you with a long talk about the origins of Christmas and why it is where it is on the calendar, though I really want to. Suffice it to say that it is extremely unlikely that Jesus was born in what is to us the end of December. The gospel of Luke tells us shepherds were out at night guarding their flock, and that is not a winter activity. Neither is it true, sorry my neo-pagan friends, that Christmas’s date was chosen to replace an older festival, in a sort of religious sleight of hand, as if people would not notice. No, according to some recent scholarship, it has to do with the winter solstice, thus the return of the Sun, and the equation of that Light (and Life I assume) with Christ, but this is not what this post is about. This post is about you guys, all eight of you, and wishing you, and yours, a festive, memorable and all around kick ass Christmas, I mean it. Merry Christmas.
As you gather your clan, remember we never know how many Christmases are left ahead of us, or which one may be someone’s last. So getting hung up about who sits where at the dinner table or pissed off about grandma playing Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” in a loop all evening is really not worth it. None of this is the least bit important the day you need to reflect on somebody’s life or take stock of your own. Just sayin’.
So give great big hugs to the ones around you, and groove to some old-school rhythm and poetry (yup, it’s what rap stands for) if that’s what grandma likes. If you’re alone don’t stay that way, go down to the nearest pub and buy a stranger a cocktail or a pitcher of beer, and if you’re blessed with company or a large family, remember to set an extra plate at the table. You never know who might come knocking that night, it might be a lonely neighbour, an estranged relative, or something else entirely.
So have a merry, peaceful and slightly tipsy Christmas, all of you.
Take care ’till we meet again.
P.-S. But how do I get slightly tipsy and keep it festive I hear you ask? Easy, with mulled wine. Vin chaud in French (hot wine), glühwein (glowing wine) in German, mulled wine is nothing more than heated red wine mixed with spices, maybe some fruit, and if you’re so inclined your favourite hard liquor of choice to give it a little boom. Sweeten it slightly and you’re good to go. Have no qualms about doing this, in Antiquity mixing wine with spices and honey was one of the signs of civilization, and as I’m fond of saying, we are not savages.
My mulled wine recipe (Mullin’ and Chillin’)
- A bottle of decent red wine, the kind you’d be willing to drink by itself, but it wouldn’t be your first choice
- Two sticks of cinnamon
- Three star anise (you can name each one as you drop them into the wine, Melchior, Balthazar, Caspar)
- Five cardamom pods
- Three clementines studded with cloves (pretty) or any other citrus (or apple) you have on hand. This is not a picky recipe.
- Grate some nutmeg into it. I won’t judge if you used the powdered stuff.
- I’ll add a bit of ginger root if I have some lying around, or maybe some long pepper.
- Sweeten to taste, I use maple syrup, this is how I roll.
Serve in a stout glass wrapped in a paper napkin or something, just make it pretty, don’t hesitate to break out your Martha Stewart on this, it’s the holidays, make it special.
Note that there is a secret to this concoction: never ever let it boil. It needs to keep getting warmer and warmer, infusing the wine with spices the value of which would have bought you a farm a thousand years ago (and were essentially the reason behind the exploration of the world at the end of the Middle Ages), but without evaporating the lovely alcohol in the wine (some yeasts worked hard for that booze buster). I usually let it not quite simmer for about 30 minutes, remember that alcohol evaporates from 78.5 C or 173 F, so you want to keep it below that at all time, yes, you can guestimate just by not letting it boil. I also believe (without much empirical justification I might add), that the not quite simmer leads to a better infusion and a clearer liquid.
Let me know if you find a combo of spices/fruits/booze that you particularly like, or if you do something a touch funky (perhaps you add butter?) and don’t forget to sweeten it somehow.
BTW, I thought Hemingway had nothing to say about this drink, but guess what? Of course he did. Or at least, though I could not find some witticism or quotable quip, he mentions mulled wine in A Farewell to Arms, where the two lovers fleeing the Italian front and the First World War drink it in Switzerland. You could say it symbolizes a temporary reprieve, the last golden warm days of the couple, before the ineluctable fate of that novel takes over. Maybe this is what wine and good company are meant to do in general, but especially at Christmas. I certainly think so.
So cheers my friends, and don’t forget about setting that extra plate.