Posted in Christian, Daily, Stories Around the World

Setting Up the Tree

“Freshly cut Christmas trees smelling of stars and snow and pine resin – inhale deeply and fill your soul with wintry night.” John J. Geddes

Interestingly the concept of the using trees to celebrate festivals or major events have been there since the early days of civilization. Before the emergence of Christianity, trees and plants that stood the drought and force of winter, remaining green against the white canvas held a special meaning for the people in the cold winter. Believing that evergreen boughs hung over the doors and windows would keep away evil, ghosts and illness as well as remind one of the spring around the corner, Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice. Fir Trees were decorated in the Roman temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Similar practices were followed by Ancient Egyptians and Druids during their pagan festivals.

Although for Christians, the fir tree symbolizes as a sign of everlasting life with God; the initial origins are still doubtful. One of the earliest related stories is traced to Germany based on Saint Boniface. In the year 722 AD, he had encountered some pagans who were about to sacrifice a child at the base of a huge oak tree. To prevent the sacrifice, he had cut down the tree and a Fir tree grew up at the base of the oak. He then spread the message that this lovely evergreen, with its branches pointing to heaven, was a holy tree, the tree of the Christ child, and a symbol of His promise of eternal life.

Another legend from Germany of how the Christmas Tree came into being goes as a reminder of care and love for fellow beings. On a cold Christmas Eve night, a forester and his family were gathered gathered round the fire in their cottage to keep warm. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. When the forester opened the door, he found a ragged poor little boy standing on the door step, lost and alone. The forester welcomed him into his home and the boy was fed, washed and put to bed in the youngest son’s own bed. The next day which was Christmas Morning, the family were woken up by a choir of angels and the poor little boy had turned into Jesus, the Christ Child. The Christ Child went into the front garden of the cottage and broke off a branch of a Fir tree and gave it to the family as a present to say thank you for looking after him. Since then, people have remembered that night by bringing a Christmas Tree into their homes.

The Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes can be credited to Germans. They had built Christmas pyramids of wood and when wood was scarce, decorated them with evergreens and candles. Yet the popular belief is that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, had first added lighted candles to a tree. In order to recapture the brilliant view of the twinkling stars amidst the evergreens, for his family; he erected a tree in his main family room and wired its branches with lighted candles. In 1846, the sketch of the then popular royals Queen Victoria and Prince Albert standing with their children around a Christmas tree; had resulted in widened popularity of the Christmas tree and its’ acceptance and appearance in many households. Since then the trend has caught on and stayed.

From Christmas lights to handmade ornaments, apples , nuts, marzipan cookies, Gingerbread men and so on, Christmas trees have been adorned in homes, neighbourhoods and communities. While the traditional fir tree has been replicated where ever possible; Christmas trees range from pine trees, spruce trees or even tall trees in their garden especially in tropical climates. Although the Christmas tree has been vastly popularized commercially or artistically; the true origin and concept still stands the same; adorning our homes, being the evergreen surviving the winter ice and snow.

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Posted in Daily, Food, Musique

The Muffin Man

Do [or “Oh, do”] you know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Do you know the muffin man,
Who lives on Drury Lane?

Yes [or “Oh, yes”], I know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Yes, I know the muffin man,
Who lives on Drury Lane.
(Source: Opie and P. Opie, The Singing Game (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 379-82))

One of the traditional nursery rhymes of English origin, “the muffin man” was recorded around the early nineteenth century as confirmed by British manuscripts circa 1820. Towards the mid-nineteenth century the rhyme as well as the game had spread over to other countries with regional variations in the lyrics as well as the game altering as a forfeit game, guessing game and a dancing game. Whichever style it may be in, as long as the children have fun, it doesn’t matter.

Interestingly, the muffins in the song were based on the English muffins, not the sweeter American cupcake shaped variety. The muffin is an individual-sized, baked product which refers to two distinct items, a part-raised flatbread or a cupcake-like quick-bread. The former i.e. the flatbread version is of British or European origin dating from at least the early 18th century or even earlier. While the latter i.e. the quick bread muffins originated in North America during the 19th century. Like all bread related products, muffins were an evolution over time with human ingenuity, local ingredients, sudden requirements, cultural expectations laced with technological advancement as well as creative baking styles.

I believe the world to be a muffin pan, and there certainly are a lot of muffins here. Aaron Funk

As far as the origins of the word “muffin” goes, it can be traced to old French word “moufflet” applied to bread meaning soft, or even Low German word “muffe” meaning cake. Initially it started off as small yeast cakes light textured roll, round and flat and commonly enjoyed during winter when they are slit, tasted, buttered and served hot with tea or jam. What initially started off as a basic recipe, towards the twentieth century, they varied from the type of flour (white, graham, rye and corn) to add-ons’ from handful of chopped dates or raisins to the base being of bran, blueberry, corn, apple, oatmeal as well as being bigger in size.

I’m all over the place with muffins. Carrots are great. Banana, chocolate chip, they rock, too. Shawn Mendes

Into the final month of this year, there has to be something special on the table once in a while. The beauty of muffins is that they are so quick and easy to make, particularly since the ingredients are only lightly mixed, not beaten smooth and can be made in a pressure cooker as well. Besides making a good snack while counting calories, the variety of tastes and mixes that can be experimented on are quite interesting. With today being the “National Oatmeal Muffin Day” in the west, it would be fun to give a try for some simple homemade muffins- cupcake style or the “English muffin way”.