Day 25: The Christmas Bird (Part the Second)

Welcome to Part the Second of The Christmas Bird! This sort of accidentally ended up being the history of the turkey. It’s because I’m like sooooooooo thorough omg.

I am hungry right now and this looks delicious.

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The wild turkey, native to Mexico and Central America, was nothing like the bird we know today. They were incredibly intelligent, brightly colored, and lived in flocks. Certain American Indian tribes, like the Zuni and Sioux, connected the turkey to the sun the same way early Europeans did with the goose. In one early Zuni legend it is said that the turkey, in an effort to raise the sun, burned his head feathers off, and that is why the turkey is bald. The turkey is associated with crops and their feathers were used in clothing and rituals. Later, European immigrants brought their custom of using the wishbone of the turkey to predict events to America.

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Day 25: The Christmas Bird (Part the First)

NOTE: While I had originally intended for this to be one post, I’ve decided to make it two due to extreme length. I’ll put the bibliography in Part the Second. Enjoy.

This year I went to my first real Christmas party. There was food and drink and games and even a little bit of awkwardness. We were playing Christmas trivia and one of the questions was “What is the traditional American Christmas dinner?” I, in my infinite food history genius, knew at once the answer was turkey. Which obviously it was. However, nearly all of the 20 or so people at the party insisted that the traditional meal was ham.

I did not know that Christmas ham included pineapple and maraschino cherries. On a related note, I've never had Hawaiian pizza.

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Uuuuh, no you’re all wrong, I’m right, don’t argue with me because I am a food history virtuoso.

Omigosh I'm like sooooo totally humble you guys!

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Day 22: Sugarplums

Everyone knows sugarplums. They’re those little….err…what are they? They’re like…plums rolled in sugar?

Or fairies, right? They’re fairies that rule the Land of Sweets and do ballet during Christmas……….

IT’S A TINY SUGAR-PLUM FAIRY!!

Right?

Not really.

Modern sugarplum. I’ll tell you later. 

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Day 21: Stollen

Believe it or not, I have another fruitcake type food item to tell you about.

Fruitcake.

Seriously, fruit was like the most coveted Christmas item way back when.

This is my most coveted Christmas fruit.

Stollen is a German specialty eaten at Christmas that’s related to panettone, fruitcake, King cake, babka, and dreikonigsbrot. All these cakes were developed in medieval times and were reserved for the holidays because they were expensive to make. The most common and most famous stollen are from Dresden, Germany.

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Day 20: Gingerbread

I love gingerbread. I love the cookie kind, the cakey kind, and everything in between. When I went to sleep away camp my favorite dessert was gingerbread cake slopped with whipped cream. It was the best day of the week.

Ours didn't look this good.

When you think about gingerbread at Christmas, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the flat, crisp cookie that’s made into men whose heads you bite off before destroying their gingerbread homes with your mouth. Of course, there’s still the cake kind, but that’s more of a year round dessert. Both kinds share a common origin that goes way back. And no, gingerbread was not always a Christmas food.

Medieval gingerbread decorated with cloves.

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Day 19: Communion Wafers & Apples

The most important part of the Christmas season for Lithuanians is the Christmas Eve supper, called Kūčios. The supper starts when the first light of the first star is seen in the sky, because it is believed to be the Star of Bethlehem. Prior to eating, two rituals are preformed. The first is breaking communion wafers.

The wafer.

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Day 17: La Vigilia

La Vigilia di Natale, also known as the Feast of Seven Fishes, is the Italian tradition of eating an extensive, seafoody dinner before Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Ok, not necessary the Italian tradition. It’s actually more common in the southern and Adriatic parts of Italy, celebrated in the regions between the island of Sicily and Rome. Once you get past Rome you’re likely to run into Italians who have never even heard of the seven fishes.

It looks like there's gefilte fish in there.

The feast goes by several different names. There’s La Vagilia di Natale (Vigil of the Nativity), Cenone (great supper), Cena della Vigilia di Natale (the supper of the Vigil of the Nativity), and Festa dei Sette Pesci (the Festival of Seven Fish). It includes all types of fish, including shellfish.

Old guy serving delicious frickin pasta. I'm so hungry.

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