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January 1, 2024

Christmas reflections from Harry Evans, 21 Dec 1973

Harry Says

I’m writing this Christmas column in our kitchen looking out at frozen East Lake. Last night, Dan and Mary and kids dropped around. Dan had gone the whole hog and butchered both a beef and a porker and came bearing gifts and good tidings–a chunk of fresh pork, a steak no less, or three or four; a pig’s head stared at me with pig-like eyes and bloodied snout. I’m partial to brawn (headcheese).

And here it’s Christmas and I think of old prints showing footmen bearing trays of boar’s heads and wassail (w’ots washail?) Makes me wonder how the old timers in their castles went about polishing off a boar’s head at Christmas. You need at least a meat saw and a cleaver. Could be they simply picked up the head and knawed at it the same as the drumstick off a chicken.

They had remarkable tastes in them days. King Henry VIII loved to dine on stewed lamprey, them eels that hook onto our lake trout. I read that they went hell bent for a coup called dilligrout made from onions, leeks, the brawn of hare, spices, almonds, milk and chopped, parboiled wild duck.

George III, who lost America, used to say of the gourmets of his court, “Nothing tastes as good as chicken. If chickens were as scarce as partridge or pheasants or grouse nobody would eat pheasants, partridges or grouse: they would prefer chicken.” George was a plain eater. I’m a meat and ’taters man meself. Could be my Royal Welsh Ancestry.

Anyway, I always associate Christmas with good cookery. When Ma biled the pudden’s the windows ran with steam and I had a passion for uncooked Christmas cake. I fought for the privilege of scraping the mixing bowl and licking the wooden spoon clean, then licking my fingers.

Instead of turkey, our family was partial to roast leg of pork. I’d gnaw on the crackling for hours. Christmas pudden was a work of art. They called it plum pudden. Why plum beats me because I never remember any plums in any of our Christmas pud. There were currants, raisins, sultanas, candied peel, and a noggin of rum for flavor and about 30 active ingredients served with hot custard sauce after igniting a jigger of rum to lend the smokey flavor. It was heaven’s delight. Mince pies were a must on the menu. Ma labored at the pastry board for days kneading, rolling, stamping out crusts. She made dozens and dozens sprinkled with castor sugar.

And it’s the same today–the same array, but most of the preparation has gone by the board with precooked and table ready foods and meats.

And in the festive season, we are prone to disregard the real meaning of the feast. It ain’t all eating, drinking and receiving. Churches will be closed shut all over Canada. The real reason will be forgotten. The gifts and bric a brac will be uppermost in our minds and in spite of nearly 2,000 years, if Christ was born today he would still have a hard row to hoe as in the days of A.D. 1 to 33. There is just as much sin, thievery, prostitution, persecution, poverty, disease, slavery, man’s inhumanity to man, drug addiction and child beating as there was when the Christ Jesus happened.

In fact, things are worse. There is a 100 times the population which makes for a 100 times as many problems. And with science and education, man has made sin all the more diabolical.

But! the whole story of Jesus and the immaculate conception and his birth makes for a beautiful story that becomes more divine with the telling. After his birth and throughout his life, how would he be received today?

But some of his presence has rubbed off, proven in the very moods and spirit we all feel at Christmas the unspoken truce with the world, the well-being, the feeling that peace could be forever. Would that we all could have been born at Christmas and it stayed the year round.

                        –’Arry

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