Joys of Christmas

Joys of Christmas

There’s something wonderfully comforting about coming home to the smell of baking, especially around Christmas.

The olfactory memory releases all the warmth of those feel-good hormones one needs to rekindle the glow of ‘Christmases past’. The baking of the Christmas cake is a sacred ritual that warrants a special holiday in our home. It’s hard for most people to understand why this annual tradition is so significant that everyone takes time off to lend a hand or a leg, that schedules are planned and dates pencilled in for this family event.

The fever begins two months before when the fruits for the cake are brought home and they are diced, chopped and minced. The candy peel, fruit preserves, raisins, plums, sultanas and nuts are handled with loving care as a curator would, a rare artefact. When all is quite done, the special ceramic jar is brought out from its little grotto, cleansed and purified to carry the delicate burden. A Bacchanalian libation soon follows as the fruits are doused in a slew of spirits to the sound of raucous and high-spirited laughter. There they will stew in their lusty juices till the time is ripe for their sacrifice.

Bright and early on the auspicious day, there is tangible tension in the air. Everyone has a job to do, an errand to run, a mixture to cream and blend. The smell of ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, burnt caramel and orange zest is as heady as an aphrodisiac.
The rhythm with which six dozen eggs are separated is hypnotic and the visual impact of egg whites whipped to snowy peaks and globules of fat golden yolks floating lusciously would inspire any mean bard to sing a carol rapturously.

Meanwhile the better half sweats it out over a large basin in which the ghee and sugar are being creamed together by hand, while the children peer over waiting as if on a high wire to make their appointed move. ‘Flour’ shouts the chief and in goes the flour. Caramel, yolks, whites, vanilla and spices make their dramatic appearances on cue.  Suddenly there is a pause and a reverent hush falls on all. It is time. The jar holding the heady concoction is worshipfully raised, then tipped, and the currants tumble over like drunks swollen with silliness. Everyone takes a deep breath and sways as the sharp sting of spirits and the sweet essences of the fruit fill our eager nostrils.

Christmas arrives when the warm smell of the cakes fills our hearts and our home with deep and lasting pride and joy. They bring home the joy of another family Christmas with its wealth of sentiment and memories of Christmases past, of those who’ve gone on and new ones who fit in seamlessly. I sit down to write my son’s leave note. In the column marked ‘Reason for absence,’  I truthfully fill, ‘Baking our Christmas cake.’ I can foresee the teacher’s quizzical look as she dismisses us as ‘irresponsible and frivolous’.  I know I wouldn’t and he wouldn’t either, miss a day like this for any other. For in it is wealth, for years to come, of the irreplaceable joys of family and shared tradition.

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