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Monday, November 12, 2018

A Visit from St. Nicholas
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads; 

And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. 
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer, 



With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen



To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky; 



So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—



And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.



As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.



He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;


The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Clever Gretel, Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 77

Clever Gretel's Thanksgiving Feast, a Tale for Cooks and Culinary Goddesses 

It is best to act with confidence, no matter how little right you have to it.
(Lillian Hellman) 
Translation: Copyright FairyTaleChannel.com
(Please read, enjoy, link to or pass this story on to friends. Please do not plagiarize, copy or pilfer. Thanks!)


There was once a cook named Gretel and she wore shoes with red heels. Whenever she went out, she swayed back and forth before the mirror, was exceedingly gay and thought to herself “You are indeed a very pretty maid.” And when she came home she was so merry, that she took a gulp of wine. And because the wine made her hungry, she tried some of the best victuals she had cooked that day. She ate until she was satisfied and always said “The cook must know how the food tastes!”

It happened that the gentleman of the house came to her and said “Gretel, this evening a guest shall visit. Prepare two splendid chickens.” “That I shall do, sir,” Gretel replied. She slaughtered the chickens, boiled them, plucked them and skewered them. And toward evening she placed them over the fire so they could roast. The chickens began to brown and would soon be done, but the guest had not yet arrived. Gretel called to the master, “If the guest does not come, I must take the chickens off the fire. But what a shame if they are not eaten immediately when they are in full juice and so succulent.” The master spoke “I shall run out and fetch the guest myself.” As soon as the master had turned his back, Gretel put aside the spit with the chickens and thought to herself “Standing so close to the fire all day makes one sweaty and thirsty. Who knows, when they will get here! While I wait, I’ll go down to the cellar and take a little nip.” She ran down the stairs, picked up a jug and took a gulp. “Good wine should be enjoyed,” she said and continued “it’s not good to stop in mid-gulp.” And so, she took another full swallow. Then she went and placed the chickens over the fire again, brushed them with butter and happily turned the spit. The roasted meat smelled so delicious that Gretel thought to herself “No one shall notice if a small bit is missing. I must of course try it!” She poked and pulled off a bit with her finger and said “Ah, what delicious chickens indeed. It’s a crying shame if they aren’t eaten immediately! She ran to the window to see if the master was returning with the guest, but saw no one. Turning back to the chickens, she gazed upon the plump birds. “Better that I should eat this little wing before it burns.” And so she cut off the wing and ate it. It tasted good and when she was done she thought, “The other wing must now come off, otherwise the master shall notice that the first one is missing.” When the two wings had been eaten she returned to the window and looked for the master. He was no where to be seen. “Who knows,” she thought, they might not even come and have probably already turned back.” She thought to herself “Gretel, be happy, you’ve started eating the one chicken, go get a fresh drink and eat up the rest. When it’s all gone you shall have your peace. Why should God’s gifts be wasted? And so she ran down into the cellar, took an honorable gulp and then ate the chicken in complete contentment. When the chicken was gone and the master still was not home, Gretel gazed on the other bird and said “Where the first chicken has gone the second must follow! The two belong together. What’s right for the one is only fitting for the other. And if I should take another sip of that wine, it surely won’t hurt me.” And so, she took another hearty gulp and the second chicken joined the first.
And as it often happens with the best of dinners, the master of the house finally returned home and called out “Hurry, Gretel, our guest shall arrive promptly.” “Yes, sir, I’ll get things ready,” Gretel replied. The gentleman looked to see whether the table was laid, took out the big knife to cut the chickens and sharpened it in the hallway. When the guest arrived, he knocked politely on the door. Gretel ran and looked to see who it was. Seeing the guest she laid a finger on her mouth and said “Quiet, quiet!, go quickly while you can. If my master catches you, you shall be sad indeed. He did invite you to supper but he intends to cut off both your ears. Listen to how he is sharpening the knives.” The guest listened to the sharpening sound coming from the hallway and retreated down the stairs as fast as he could. Gretel was not a lazy maid. She ran screaming to her master and called out “That’s quite the guest you invited!” “Why is that, Gretel? What do you mean?”

“He took both chickens from the platter, which I was just about to place on the table, and ran off with them!” “That’s a fine way to act!” the master cried. And he felt badly about losing two delicious chickens. “If he had at least left me with one, I would have something to eat.” He called after the man imploring him to stay. But the guest pretended he didn’t hear. The master ran after him with the knife still in his hand and cried “Only one, only one!” He meant the guest should leave only one of the chickens and not take both. But the guest understood he was to relinquish only one of his ears and so he ran as if a fire were raging behind him. And so, he arrived safely home with both of his ears. 




Bechlboschen or Christmas Bush, Feast Days, the Color Red and Christmas Goddesses

(Please read, enjoy, link to or pass this story on to friends. Please do not plagiarize, copy or pilfer. Thanks!)


In Salzburg Land, the Bechlboschen is a Christmas bush. The special significance of this bush or why it was tied to Christmas is unclear but it is probably based on a long forgotten pagan belief. A Christmas bush is also traditional in Bavaria in a region near Guenzburg. It was said the bush marked the spot frequented by the dirneweibl (female child) dressed in a bright red cloak, who carried pretty red apples in a basket. She always offered these as gifts to the unsuspecting passerby (probably in the winter season around Christmas time?). Should the person accept her gift, it turned into pure gold. But if the person did not follow her, the dirneweibl retreated into the forest, crying pitifully. The color red for her cloak is significant and marks her as one of the many forgotten pagan goddesses of German mythology. One of the most famous fairytale figures of all is dressed in similar garb and likewise retreats into the forest: Little Red Riding Hood.
In the tale of Clever Gretel (full text above), the protagonist wears shoes with red heels, a similar marker. But Gretel is not the typical Christmas Goddess of times past. Red shoes mark a strong-willed, socially deviant person in fairy tales, who could signal trouble. Still, her cooking is sublime.

It is easy to imagine that Gretel would have liked to cook even bigger birds than mere chickens, given her lusty appetite. I can imagine her cooking a turkey or goose-sized bird to satisfy her cravings. As we move into the dark days of of the year, food and friendship help us persist toward the light we know will return. So eat and be merry and share a hearty meal with those you love.