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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Country Cousin

Ten Days & Counting!...

Winter officially arrives in exactly one week, but the Old Man got here early. He usually does, here in TIMESland. The snowfall over the weekend was serious, and we're promised more this weekend. Not much chance it will go away on its own until Spring.

Santa and his reindeer should be happy. Good sledding surface, you know.

HOW MANY DAYS?

Remember the old ads - "Only 10 More Shopping Days 'Til Christmas"? Now, we can shop every day, and all night if we want to. The only limits are our endurance and our bank account. Seem to find myself wanting on both counts!

CLEAN THE HEADLIGHTS

Manage to forget this every year, then find myself driving almost without headlights when darkness falls. On slushy road days, when salt splashes up on them, be sure to keep headlights and tail lights clean, or at least as clean as you can. That sometimes is at least as important as keeping the windshield washer full and ready to wash.

WINTER FESTIVALS

The shortest day of the year, in terms of the amount of time the Sun spends in the northern sky, is Wednesday, Dec. 21, just four days before Christmas.

With wonderful Divine Providence God arranged things so the birth of His son - the Light of the World - would be at the exact time of year when most ancient northern hemisphere folks celebrated a major holiday of light marking the rebirth of the sun, which many of them worshipped. Usually their celebrations involved gifts, greenery, fires and feasting. So do ours today!

Jews celebrate Hanukkah, their Festival of Lights, with ceremonies, gifts, feasts and candles, much like our basic Christmas. Trees, wreaths, holly, etc. didn't become part of Christian celebrations until later. Hanukkah starts three days after the new moon closest to the winter solstice. It celebrates the victory over the Macabees and rededication of the temple at Jerusalem.

Early Scandinavians were even more affected by the shortened daylight hours than their more southerly neighbors. Doubtless their priests knew how to choose just the right date for ceremonies to fight off the demons of darkness - the date when they were sure to be effective. In connection with the ceremonies they staged great celebrations, marked by feasting, lights, fires and decorated homes.

Germanic tribes, many of them tree-worshiping Druids - also celebrated the turning of the sun with ceremonies, greenery, fires and feasts.

Ancient Egyptians celebrated rebirth of the sun with a 12-day festival at about the time of the winter solstice. They decorated with greenery, using palms with 12 shoots as a symbol of the 12-months on their calendar. They believed the palm put out one shoot a month, and maybe it did.

Ancient Persians and Babylonians also celebrated a huge annual renewal festival at the Winter solstice.

CELEBRATIONS MERGE

Eventually - even before the birth of Christ - those traditions merged in ancient Rome with "Saturnalia", a festival to honor Saturn, the ancient god of seed and rebirth. Grudges and quarrels were forgotten, wars interrupted or postponed. All normal business ceased and schools closed. Slaves were served by their masters, parents obeyed their children. (That part isn't too different from some families today, is it?) Homes were decorated with greenery and people gave themselves up to gift giving, feasting and merriment. Some of the merriment got a bit raw, but that's how things were in ancient Rome.

Then, in the 6th Century AD, Constantine, as the first Christian Emperor of Rome, officially established Dec. 25 as Jesus' birthday. Prior to that time, it had been celebrated on Jan. 6, the feast we now know as Epiphany, or Feast of the Three Wise Men. The days between Dec. 25 and Jan. 6 were celebrated as the Twelve Days of Christmas, in honor of the Son of God, who incidentally selected 12 very special men to serve as his Apostles.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Think of the symbolism. Coincidence? Or did God plan it that way?

Perhaps if we study ancient cultures closely, we will see that the Bible wasn't the only means God used to send advance messages to the whole world - messages that would only be recognized after the birth of his Son.

WAS A STAR BORN?

Can anyone help? Is there a scientific study of celestial phenomena that could pinpoint the time of the Savior's birth? A comet? Birth of a new star? A conjunction of planets? If you've heard of any, please write and I'll be happy to pass the information along.

Hate to admit such ignorance, but am also wondering if there are Biblical references to Christ's birth being close to the time of the Jewish Hanukkah?

ANGEL NAMES

Heard about a tyke at Sunday school who wanted to know why only angels named Harold were allowed to sing at Bethlehem.

HOLLY

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly..."

Some early peoples in northern climes revered all evergreens because they were the only plants spared the death of winter. But what is the significance of holly today, and why do we use the plant with shiny green prickly leaves and red berries as part of our Christmas decorations?

The holly was believed to stand for peace and joy, and people often settled arguments under a holly tree. It was believed to frighten off witches and protect the home from thunder and lightning.

A legend that sprung up in West England says putting sprigs of holly around a young girl's bed on Christmas Eve will keep away mischievous little goblins, and hanging them over a baby's cradle will keep faeries away.

British farmers put sprigs of holly on their beehives, in honor of a belief that on the first Christmas even the bees hummed for the Christ Child. English legends mention the "he holly" and the "she holly" as being the determining factor in who will rule the household in the following year. The "she holly" has smooth leaves and the "he holly" has prickly ones.

In Germany, a piece of holly used in church decorations and taken home later was regarded as a charm against lightning.

Other beliefs included putting a sprig of holly on the bedpost to bring on sweet dreams. Making a tonic from holly was said to cure a cough. (Wouldn't want to try that one. Holly can be poisonous. Don't let your pets or babies chew on it.)

Druids believed evergreen holly was meant to keep the earth beautiful when the sacred oak lost it leaves. Folks used to wear sprigs of holly in their hair when they went into the forest to watch their priests cut the sacred mistletoe.

Holly was the sacred plant of Saturn and was used at the Roman Saturnalia festival to honor him. Romans gave one another holly wreaths and carried them about, decorating images of Saturn with it. There's that Pagan connection again.

Centuries later, in December, while other Romans continued their pagan worship, Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus. To avoid persecution, they decked their homes with Saturnalia holly. As Christian numbers increased and their customs prevailed, holly lost its pagan association and became a symbol of Christmas.

MISTLETOE

Why do we kiss under the Mistletoe?

There are two types of mistletoe. Most common is a type of shrub. The least common and most revered is a parasitic plant that grows mainly in oak trees in Europe and North America. This mistletoe has powerful medicinal qualities, but only if used properly. It was once known as "Alheal", and had many uses in folk medicine. It is still used in some medicines today. North American Indians used it for toothaches, measles and dog bites, among other things. Early Greeks revered it as having mystical qualities.

Known as the "golden bough", it was considered a most sacred plant by Norsemen and Celtic Druids. In Scandinavian antiquity, it was the plant of peace. Enemies meeting by chance beneath it had to lay down their arms and keep truce until the next day. Spouses who had battled were also supposed to kiss and make up if they met under a bough of mistletoe.

The plant was used by Druid priests in a special ceremony held twice a year, at the time of winter and summer solstices. Five days after new moon following the winter solstice, Druid priests using a golden sickle would cut mistletoe from a holy oak tree. The branches had to be caught without letting them touch the ground. There was more to the ceremony, including the sacrifice of two white bulls, but we won't go into that. Anyway, sprigs of mistletoe were given to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning, fire, witches and the like. When the Druids converted to Christianity, they continued the practice of decorating their homes with mistletoe, probably wanting to be on the safe side.

Since the parasitic mistletoe grew high off the ground with no visible means of support, the ancients believed it was propagated by bird droppings. Actually, they may have been right. Hence the name. Bet you can't guess what it means. "Mistel" is the old Anglo-Saxon word for "dung" and "toe" means "twig" in the ancient language. So technically, name of the romantic plant we make into kissing balls translates to "dung-on-a-twig".

COOKIN TIME

Some would say one of the best things about Christmas is the excuse it gives us to bake (and eat) a lot of otherwise forbidden goodies. With these recipes, you can turn out an array of treats in a very short time. Have at it!

FRUITY POPCORN BALLS

Want to make made edible ornaments that can come in every color of the rainbow and taste something like a cross between popcorn, Life Savers and Rice Krispies Candy? Make in Christmas colors, or save the idea for a school bake sale, and make the balls in school colors. Or as a special treat for our feathered friends, make tiny balls around a wire twisty tie and decorate a tree in the yard. Much, much easier than pie!

9 cups popped popcorn (or buy a big bag of hull free popcorn and use that)

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1 package marshmallows (10-ounce size)

6 tablespoons fruit flavored gelatin dessert mix (any flavor your heart desires)

If you choose to pop your own corn, do shake out the batches in a large-hole colander to get out all the Old Maids. Put it into a large dish and set aside. In a saucepan, melt the butter and marshmallows until they blend smoothly. As an alternative, microwave about 2 minutes in a bowl. If not warm enough to stir together, do it again. When the marshmallow butter mixture is all smooth and creamy, stir in whatever color gelatin dessert you want until the mix is dissolved and color is uniform. Pour over popcorn and toss to coat. When cool enough to handle, butter hands lightly and shape into balls. Put on lightly buttered cookie sheet until fully cool, then wrap artfully in clear plastic wrap so the lovely colors show through.

BASIC COOKIE MIX

A favorite aunt passed this along many years ago, before the advent of Jiffy Mix and the like. The basic mix can be a lifesaver if your cookie supply is running low. You can mix up a nice variety of fresh-baked cookies in a flash. The mix is also great to have on hand for dreary winter evenings after the holidays are over and you need to cheer the family up a bit.

1 1/2 cups butter

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

6 cups all-purpose flour

Use electric mixer and large bowl, or do this in two batches in food processor. Blend the first 3 ingredients, then add flour slowly. Dough can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 4 weeks. Use cookie mix to make Buttery Almond Sticks, Chocolaty Toffee Bars, Butter Balls, Cherry Winks, Jam Thumbs, and Peanut Butter Cookies. If you don't want to make the Basic Cookie Mix, for each 2 cups called for in the recipes that follow, instead add to the other ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups flour

PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

2 cups Basic Cookie Mix

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 egg

1/3 cup confectioners' sugar for decoration

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Beat Basic Mix with sugar, peanut butter, vanilla, egg and chopped nuts. Shape dough into balls. Bake 11 to 16 minutes. Let cool. Roll in confectioners' sugar. Makes 12 cookies. Alternatively, drop by spoonsful onto cookie sheet, then press slightly flat with tines of a fork crisscrossed in the center. Do not press too hard, just enough to leave the fork marks while the outer edge remains intact. Then forget the powdered sugar.

CHOCOLATY TOFFEE BARS

2 cups Basic Cookie Mix

1 cup packed brown sugar

5 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan. Combine Basic Cookie Mix with brown sugar, butter vanilla and egg. Mix well. Spread dough in pan. Bake 17 to 24 minutes until top springs back when touched. Immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let stand 2-3 minutes to melt. While still hot, spread chocolate over bars and sprinkle with nuts. Cut when cooled. Makes 12 bars.

CHERRY WINKS

2 cups Basic Cookie Mix

1/2 cup white sugar

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup raisins (optional)

1/4 cup maraschino cherries, chopped

24 maraschino cherries, halved, drained

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine 2 cups of Basic Cookie Mix with white sugar, egg, butter, and vanilla. Add nuts if desired. Stir in raisins and chopped maraschino cherries. Shape dough into balls. Press half of a Maraschino cherry into each cookie and bake 11-16 minutes. Makes 12 cookies.

BUTTERY ALMOND STICKS

1-1/2 cups white sugar

1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon almond extract

2/3 cup butter, softened

3/4 pound cream cheese

2 egg, separated

4 cups Basic Cookie Mix

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix sugar and almond flavoring and set aside. Separate eggs. Beat the whites lightly, then set them aside. In a separate bowl mix butter, cream cheese and egg yolks. Stir or knead in the Basic Cookie Mix. Roll out on a flat surface to about an 8-inch by 12-inch rectangle. Cut in half. Place one half on greased cookie sheet. Sprinkle on almond extract and sugar mixture. Place second half on top and press together. Brush with slightly beaten egg white, then sprinkle on almonds. Bake 22 - 30 minutes. Let cool at least 30 minutes. Cut into 1/2 inch strips. Makes 24 cookies.

BUTTER BALLS

2 cups Basic Cookie Mix

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 egg

1/3 cup confectioners' sugar for decoration

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine Basic Cookie Mix with sugar, butter, vanilla, egg and chopped nuts. Mix well. Shape dough into balls. Bake 11 to 16 minutes. Let cool. Roll in confectioners' sugar. Makes 12 cookies.

The Country Cousin

Thought For The Week: So your Christmas housecleaning is done, and the decorations are hung. But maybe your preparations are not finished. Did you get any serious soul cleaning done? To enjoy a truly joyous holiday season, we need to throw out old hatreds, calm old angers, salve old wounds, ask God and our fellow man for forgiveness, make room in our hearts for the true joy that Christmas can bring. If we all can do that, Christmas will be very merry indeed!

P.S. Guardian Angels love to help with soul cleaning. Time is short. Don't be afraid to call on yours!



(This column is written by Shirley Prudhomme of Crivitz. Views expressed are her own and are in no way intended to be an official statement of the opinions of Peshtigo Times editors and publishers. She may be contacted by phone at 715-291-9002 or by e-mail to shirleyprudhommechickadee@yahoo.com.)


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