December 24, 2012
Christmas Eve with our Ancestors
Christmas Eve for French-Canadians is known as the réveillon (literally, “awakening”), a feast that followed midnight mass and ushered in Christmas Day. Traditional food is the tourtiere or meat pie.
In German it is Heiliger Abend. The festival is usually celebrated in the family circle. In Germany it is common to eat potato salad with sausages or a similarly simple meal, but also more complex dishes such as goose or carp are common. A traditional Christmas Eve meal consists of carp (a type of fish), potato salad, boiled potatoes, cucumber salad and lemon slices. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles. In Ireland or Oíche Nollag.
Christmas Eve is traditionally a day of fasting in Ireland followed with a small evening meal of fish and potatoes. After evening meal on Christmas eve the kitchen table was again set and on it were placed a loaf of bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins, a pitcher of milk and a large lit candle. The door to the house was left unlatched so that Mary and Joseph, or any wandering traveller, could avail of the welcome.