• 1 kg mixed dried fruit (use a mix of raisins, sultanas, currants, cherries, cranberries, prunes or figs)
      • zest and juice 1 orange
      • zest and juice 1 lemon
      • 150 ml brandy, Sherry, whisky or rum, plus extra for feeding
      • 250 g pack butter, softened
      • 200 g light soft brown sugar
      • 175 g plain flour
      • 100 g ground almond
      • ½ tsp baking powder
      • 2 tsp mixed spice
      • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
      • ¼ tsp ground cloves
      • 100 g flaked almond
      • 4 large eggs
      • 1 tsp vanilla extract  

Christmas is coming soon. 'Tis the season to be jolly. And who is jollyer than Santa? Ho-Ho-Ho.  4

In 1897, a little girl wrote a letter to a newspaper: "Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in The Sun it's so.' Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?" The answer came in perhaps the most famous newspaper editorial ever written. It began:  5

      "Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.  6

      "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished."  7

I enjoy attending Christmas Eve services at Lakefield's Holy Trinity Church and am looking forward to go there this year again. Problem, though, I am an old fogey and I pee a lot. A problem to be solved.  8

"Families are welcome - all denominations are welcome," the invitation goes. Seeing people again even though I have forgotten many names. Faces too. And when a name comes to mind it is too late. Sometimes I can quietly ask my daughter, who took me there.  9

"Denominations." I looked it up in the Wikipedia. It came up on my computer screen along with a request for some money. Wikipedia needs money to keep it alive. As do churches.  10

"A Christian denomination is a generic term for a distinct religious body identified by traits such as a common name, structure, leadership and doctrine." That leaves me out. Still, I've always felt welcome.  11

O, I forgot! Old fogeys forget a lot. Sorry. Those ingredients for our Christmas cake? The full recipe can be found here. Credit where it is due.  12

Santa. Whence Santa? Wikipedia to the rescue. "The modern Santa Claus grew out of traditions surrounding the historical Saint Nicholas (a fourth-century Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra), the British figure of Father Christmas, and the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas (himself also based on Saint Nicholas). Some maintain Santa Claus also absorbed elements of the Germanic god Wodan, who was associated with the pagan midwinter event of Yule and led the Wild Hunt, a ghostly procession through the sky."  13

"Wild Hunt? "Wild Hunts typically involve a ghostly or supernatural group of hunters passing in wild pursuit. The hunters may be elves or fairies or the dead." Never mind, Virginia. Santa Claus exists; as do the reindeer pulling him across the heavens abve; as do love and generosity and devotion that give life beauty and joy.  14

Senator and historian Tacitus is highly regarded as one of the greatest Roman historians. Around 117 AD he mentioned Christ and his execution by Pontius Pilate. His account and those by others leave but little doubt that Jesus is a historical figure. Details may vary. The gospels by Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John quote different last words. But as for the virgin birth, that's another story. Two stories, actually, one found in Matthew, the other in Luke. No virgin births in Mark and John.  15

Jesus, by all accounts, was a great teacher who inspired many. To his peril. Because he becried hypocrites, he upset commerce for corrupting ideals, he brought hope to the downtrodden, he put deeds before talk, he preached forgiveness. It appears to me that the masses who called for Jesus's execution had been stirred up by powerful people; unseen—nothing new here under the sun.  16

Stories of virgin births were not rare in antiquity; ingredients aplenty for scribes' imaginations to make them florish into delightful tales. Tales that have brought life beauty and joy. A prayer from around 1050 has spawned stirring music by great composers—Schubert, Gounod, Bruckner, and so on. Bruckner, my favorite, harmonized Gregorian chant with modern music. Savour his rendition:  17

      Ave Maria, gratia plena,
      Dominus tecum.
      Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
      et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
      Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
      Ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
      nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Jesus—born from a virgin. Both exist as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist.  19

Merry Christmas

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