Christmas Cooking: Celebrating Christmastide with Food
We live in a time when the Christmas season begins for secular society right after Thanksgiving and ends at the stroke of 11:59pm on Christmas Day. Chances are you have already attended Christmas parties, eaten Christmas goodies, and sung Christmas songs. This is not morally reprehensible, but it is not exactly attuned to the season we are in the midst of celebrating right now: Advent. It is a season of preparation, of waiting, of longing. It is not meant to be a season of excess, but is in a way meant to actually be a season of light penance and fasting so that we might be made ready for the actual celebration, the actual feast: Christmas. Christmas is not a day but a season which is celebrated in the new liturgical calendar from December 25 to the celebration of Epiphany (traditionally January 6, this year observed in the US on Sunday, January 8). Traditionally, the season of Christmas lasted from December 25 to February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation!
Let us use this time left in Advent to prepare for the celebration of Christmas. We are creatures of body and soul so we must prepare both for this great and solemn season of joy. In Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Art of Waiting by Mother Mary Francis, the dear abbess has these words for her sisters and for us,
“Saint Bernard says, ‘Feed on goodness and remember to eat your bread.’ In all of these circumstances, remember to do that. We usually don’t forget to come to the refectory! As far as I can see, everybody faithfully shows up three times a day - because we wouldn’t be able to live our lives, to do our work, to pray, if we did not have our nourishment. But we have to be told this spiritually, “Remember to eat your bread or your heart will wither away. When Saint Bernard says, ‘Feed on goodness’, he is repeating in different words what Saint Paul says, ‘Everything that is lovely, everything that is admirable, everything that is lofty - let this be the substance of your thoughts.’ This is what we feed on.
As we move into this week of Advent we need to improve our diet. We need to feed steadily on goodness so that we can be, with God’s grace, ready to meet him at Bethlehem. God is swift to do good. Sometimes we are slow, aren’t we? This is no time to be slow! We have to feed on goodness as a steady diet in these weeks, on every occasion looking for this nutritious food of goodness.”
We need nutritious food of goodness for both body and soul in every season. We have the opportunity to make our very food, which we use not only for sustenance but also for celebration, help us lift our eyes to heaven and remember the season and feasts which we hold dear. Below are a few recipe ideas for the Christmas season - for the 12 Days of Christmas - for a liturgical approach to the season. May what we consume with our bodies remind us of what we ought to be striving for with our souls - goodness, virtue, heaven itself! May we feed on goodness both spiritually and physically!
December 25, Christmas Day: Sausage Balls
There’s nothing particularly liturgically inclined about these sausage balls, but perhaps you could say they represent Christ’s two natures - human and divine - by being both sausage and biscuit in one! My mother makes them every Christmas season and they are an easy grab and heat up breakfast snack to stave off hunger while opening presents in the morning after a potentially long night if you made it to Midnight Mass. This recipe originally comes from Tex Joy.
2 cups Biscuit Mix
2 ½ cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1 lb Ground Sausage
½ tsp (TexJoy) Sausage Seasoning
2 tbsp Onion Flakes
2 tbsp Chili Powder
½ tsp Red Pepper Flakes
1 tbsp Cumin
1 tbsp Garlic Powder
½ tsp Steak Seasoning
½ cup Water
In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix thoroughly with hands. Form into small balls (about 1 inch) and bake on cookie sheets for 10-15 minutes at 400 degrees. Yield: about 5 dozen.
December 27, St. John the Evangelist: St. John’s Wine
Tradition says that St. John the Evangelist evaded martyrdom at the hands of Roman Emperor Domitian not once but twice. In one of these failed attempts at killing the apostle, John was given poisoned wine. He blessed the wine and apparently the poison slithered away from the cup in the form of a snake. Celebrate St. John’s feast day by getting together with friends (he’s the patron saint of friendship!) and enjoying a warm cup of wine (or non-alcoholic punch!) in the Beloved Disciple’s honor.
St. John’s Wine (adapted from A Continual Feast by Evelyn Birge Vitz)
1 Quart Red Wine
3 Whole Cloves
1/16 tsp Ground Cardamom
2 Cinnamon Sticks
½ tsp Ground Nutmeg
½ cup Sugar
Orange Slices to taste
Pour wine into warm saucepan. Add all remaining ingredients. Warm on stove on medium-low heat for ten minutes. Serve hot. Yield: 8-10 servings.
Christmas Punch for Children (from Around the Year with the von Trapp Family by Maria von Trapp)
1 Quart Grape Juice
2 Quarts Water
2 Cups Sugar
½ Whole Cloves
1 Cinnamon Stick
Juice of Two Lemons
Juice of Two Oranges
Boil sugar, water, lemon rind, and spices until flavored. Mix with the rest of the ingredients. Boil five minutes and serve hot in punch glasses.
December 28, The Holy Innocents: Christmas Jello
The Holy Innocents were the first martyrs for Christ at the hands of the malicious Herod. It is traditional to serve “baby food” of some kind like warm cereal (oatmeal or the like) on this feast. Other traditions include serving something red, like a red velvet cupcakes or something with strawberries to evoke the blood spilt by the precious babes. It may seem macabre but we are all called to remember the blood of the martyrs and to remember our own deaths. Below is a recipe from the Ember Journal for homemade Christmas Gummies which is red from different fruit juices.
3 cups Apple Juice
1 cup Pomegranate Juice
½ cup Cherry or Cranberry Juice
⅓ Grass-Fed Gelatin
⅓ cup Coconut Cream, optional
Sprinkle gelatin over 1 cup cold juice to bloom. Heat remaining juice over low heat - when gelatin is bloomed, mix it into juice, then add to stovetop mixture. Mix everything until there are no clumps, then pour mixture into a glass dish. Pour coconut cream over the mixture, and use a knife to help swirl a nice zigzag pattern. Set in fridge until firm (at least 4 hours) and then cut into squares.
December 30, Feast of the Holy Family: Snickerdoodles
The Holy Family can easily be celebrated by making any kind of cookie together, but in my family, my mother and I have spent many a Christmas season making these easy snickerdoodles. This recipe makes quite a few cookies, so if you double or triple your batch you can easily take bags as gifts to neighbors or to a family get together. This recipe is adapted from my aunt who got it from Pillsbury in the late 80s or early 90s.
1 ½ cups Sugar
½ cup Butter, room temperature
1 tsp Vanilla
2 ¼ cup Flour
2 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Cream of Tartar
½ Baking Soda
¼ tsp Salt
2 tbsp Sugar
2 tsp Cinnamon
Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Blend in vanilla and eggs. Blend dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Combine cinnamon and sugar for topping. Shape dough into 1 inch balls, roll in cinnamon sugar mixture, and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets to cool immediately. Yields several dozen cookies.
January 3, St. Genevieve: French Toast
St. Genevieve was a shepherdess girl who went on to protect Paris through a warning of a coming attack of Attila the Hun. She lived her life as a great religious gifted with prophecy and was known for her great virtue and piety. She is often depicted with a loaf of bread, a sign of her generosity to the poor. A good activity in preparation for St. Genevieve’s Day would be to make bread so that it is a few days old when you prepare your French toast. The bread recipe provided is tried and true in my house and I can attest it makes excellent French toast!
2 Cups Warm Water
½ Cup White Sugar
1.5 Tbsp Yeast
¼ Cup Oil
1.5 Tsp salt
6 cups flour (I use a mix of white and whole wheat)
Add sugar and yeast to bowl and then pour in water. Allow mixture to rest approximately five minutes until foamy. Add oil and salt then add in flour one cup at a time until well incorporated. Knead for 5-10 minutes (I use a stand mixer with a dough hook), then oil bowl and let rise 1 hour until doubled. Shape into loaves and then allow to rise for additional 30 minutes to an hour. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Makes two loaves.
January 6, Epiphany: King Cake
A traditional way to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, the conclusion of the 12 Days of Christmas, is to have a king cake. There are many different variations of king cake or king’s bread from France, Spain, the Southern United States, and elsewhere. This idea is adapted from A Continual Feast where Evelyn Birge Vitz suggests making or buying a regular cake and baking it with (or adding later) a little something that will not melt inside (like uncooked beans). Decorate the cake to look like a crown - using colored frosting and candies to make jewels and designs. If you have children, get them involved and excited about decorating it. When you eat the cake, whomever finds the beans (or other unmeltable item) gets to be king or queen for the day. In Louisiana, this tradition is fulfilled with a figure of baby Jesus and whomever finds baby Jesus has to host the next party leading up to Mardi Gras!