As Christmas approaches, things begin to look – and smell – more festive here at Steeles Tavern Manor B&B and Alpine Hideaway Cottages. We follow and practice lots of holiday traditions that our parents and grandparents observed all through their and our lives. Some of our traditions are fun, some are tasty, some are spiritual in nature, and some are just wacky!
We decided to explore the history and folklore behind some of our familiar traditions and share those stories with you here. So when you make your reservation to stay with us during the Christmas Season, you will know how each special decoration or sweet treat started appearing in our family background.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree…
The fir tree first held special significance to Christians as early as the year 723. Saint Boniface, evangelizing Germany, felled the “Thunder Oak” of the pagan god, Thor. Behind that big oak tree grew a small fir tree that Boniface called “a young child of the forest…the tree of the Christ-child”. Martin Luther is said to have seen a snow-covered fir tree glistening in the moon light and he wanted to share the beauty with his family. He brought an evergreen into his home and adorned it with candles to honor the Christ child. Many other legends stand about the evergreen tree being the sign of life in the cold, dark winter. Our 9-foot Christmas in the living room of the B&B may be “fake” but has the wonderful smell of a Fir Tree. How? We purchase “Scentsicles” that are scent ornaments with hooks and hang them in the tree to enjoy to smells of a fresh cut tree!The tree in the living room is not the only tree at the Inn! We have 14 trees displayed throughout the B&B. Each cottage has a decorated tree so guests can enjoy festive surroundings. Since we love wine and our rooms are named for different varieties of grapes, of course we have a tree decorated with a wine theme and we have a smaller tree made of wine corks. Try to find the tree shaped like a reindeer! A “Charlie Brown Tree” displays our B&B ornaments in our gift shop.
Please have snow and mistletoe…
The Norse god Thor also has a role in our tradition regarding sharing kisses under the mistletoe. The legend is that Baldur, Thor’s grandson, feared that every animal and plant on earth wanted to kill him. Baldur would not go outside and was not comforted by any of his family. His wife and mother finally asked every living thing to spare Baldur – but the forgot to ask the mistletoe! Baldur celebrates but is attacked by a particularly mischievous god named Loki, who used mistletoe to stab Baldur. Kissing under the mistletoe reminds us to remember the lowly mistletoe and to honor the love between Baldur and his wife.
In ancient Rome, pomegranate seeds, raisins, and pine nuts were mixed with barley mash. Later, in the middle ages, honey, spices, and preserved fruits were added into the mix to make a sweeter, heavier cake. Fruitcakes became popular all over Europe and eventually, it was discovered that, by adding enough sugar and alcohol, the cake could be preserved for years! In the US, we think of this sweet, fruity cake being served mostly around the Christmas season but in other countries around the world, you may find these sweet treats being served year round. Some version of Fruit Cake – and an associated tradition – can be found in Australia, Bahamas, Bulgaria, Chile, Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, the Caribbean, and the United Kingdom. Fruit Cake may the butt of many jokes, but it is here to stay – Enjoy giving and receiving fruit cakes!
How about some Eggnog…
Eggnog is thought to have descended from “posset”, a drink made with hot curdled milk, wine or ale, and spices served in Medieval Britain. The drink was hardy and warming on cold winter evenings. The drink appeared in the USA in the 1700’s when eggs and rum were plentiful. Adding spices such as vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon made the drink more festive and it became associated with the Christmas season. George Washington, our first president, was known for this recipe for delicious eggnog:
“One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, ½ pint rye whiskey, ½ pint Jamaica rum, ¼ pint sherry —mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”
At our Staff Christmas Party we will be serving some good homemade eggnog – but not George Washington’s recipe.
There are lots of other signs of Christmas that you will observe around our Inn too. Candy canes, Christmas cards, a Yule log, lots of Santas collected through the years, a Christmas Pickle, Christmas Cookies, and of course the sound of carols all add to the festive glow of the season when you stay here at the Steeles Tavern Manor B&B and Alpine Hideaway Cottages.