Circus Peanuts For Christmas, Anyone?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for December 26, 2019, East Bernard, Texas.

            As we began to prepare for Christmas last week, my wife and I discussed stocking stuffers, including what kind of candy to put in the family stockings we recently hung. Of the various kinds of candy St. Nicholas and our parents provided for us at Christmas, we both had the same favorites. While my brother liked solid chocolate Santa Clauses best, Peggy and I both preferred chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas. At Easter, the wife and I both preferred Peeps to any other Easter candy. Our conclusion from the discussion is that we both love marshmallows!

            We know what kind of candy our granddaughters like, so it’s a given their kind will always find a home in their stockings. But why not get the kind we like, too?

            Chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas are found just about everywhere, Walmart, Dollar General, etc. But pure marshmallows in Christmas shapes are hard to find. The orange-colored, peanut-shaped marshmallow candies are readily available, but orange peanuts for Christmas?

            Well, these orange, peanut-shaped pieces of marshmallow candy are as American as apple pie. They’ve been around since the 1800’s and were originally sold as unwrapped “penny candy” in Five and Dime stores all over America. Those of you older folks like me remember they were called “Circus Peanuts” and had an artificial banana flavor. No one knows for sure why they were called “Circus Peanuts,” but we think the fact they were first sold at circuses as penny candy was the reason.

            The marshmallow itself was first created by the ancient Egyptians in 2000 B.C., and considered a delicacy fit only for the royal family and the gods. It was made from the sap of the mallow plant (Athaea Officinatia), which grew in marshes and has been used in herbal medicine for centuries as a cure for sore throat and coughs, and for healing wounds. In the 1800’s, French confectioners discovered they could create marshmallows from gelatin just as easily as from the mallow root.

            Today’s marshmallows and marshmallow candy are made with gelatin, sugar, water, corn starch, and a whipping agent like egg whites. Vegans could eat the treat made from the mallow plant, but gelatin, coming from animal sources, is a vegan no-no.

            In the 1800’s, Circus Peanuts were a seasonal candy, sold only in the spring, but in recent years, it has been available year-round. I discovered that the Circus Peanuts makers do create the banana-flavored goodies at Easter in pastel colors and in the shape of bunnies and Easter eggs, but no Santas at Christmas, and no green and red peanuts. Just orange.

            When you are planning for Christmas stockings, this is a very momentous issue! Do you buy regular white marshmallows and make snowmen out of them, or do you decide you can tolerate orange-colored peanuts at Christmas. You can see that such a profound issue required a lot of time spent in discussion.

            Finally, I made the decision! I ordered two bags of Circus Peanuts on Amazon, made of marshmallows and tasting like artificial bananas, and they will go in our stockings! Case closed.

            Of course, Christmas is not about stockings full of candy and other goodies, yet it should be a time of fun and joy, and I believe we should never let the child with joyful wonderment in us die! Such fun and delight as Christmas stockings filled with candy and fruit bring us joy, as we celebrate the greater reason for joy, the birth of Christ, the Savior of the world. We can even imagine Mary and Joseph experiencing some of this worldly fun and joy, as they might have sung to Baby Jesus and made him homemade toys to play with. There is an old tradition that the shepherds brought Baby Jesus a ball as a birthday gift. So I’m inclined to encourage earthly fun and gladness during the Christmas season, but always remembering and emphasizing that we are celebrating the birth of God’s Son, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!”

-o-

Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of the book, It Must Be the Noodles.

So What’s For Christmas Dinner?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for December 12, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Gluttony was a rather unpleasant character in Medieval Morality Plays, and I’m afraid he becomes our split personality persona during Christmas dinner. All year long we follow our Weight-Watcher’s Diet, but the allurement of a sumptuous Christmas dinner causes us to abandon our diet at least for the Day.

            One day of gluttony can’t really hurt us, can it, and actually might be good for the mind and soul (forget the body for one day), especially when you consider all the mouth-watering Christmas cuisines the world has to offer.

            The typical American Christmas dinner, with regional variations, consists of turkey with stuffing (dressing or filling), mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and green vegetables. In Texas, it might be deep-fried turkey, smoked turkey, or barbecued brisket, but served with dressing. Upon googling “dressing,” I found that, while technically the only difference between “dressing” and “stuffing” is “baked separate in a pan” or “stuffed inside the bird,” this Christmas delight is called “dressing” (no matter what) in the South and “stuffing” in the Northeast and in the rest of the country (no matter what). Except for the Pennsylvania Dutch, who call it “filling.”

            In spite of our regional and ethnic differences, it is still safe to say that turkey-and- dressing is the essence of the typical American Christmas dinner. It’s interesting to note that the Christmas dinner menu often served to the British Royal family at Sandringham (where Queen Elizabeth and her family spend every Christmas) is also turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mashed or roasted potatoes.

            However, if you take a trip across the Texas border to Mexico, you will find something quite different, though also delectable and sumptuous, on the Christmas Day dinner table: pavo navideno, ensalada de Nocha Buena, menudo, tamales, volteado de pina, ponche navideno, Russian potato salad, bacalso with romeritos and atole. Those of us who love Mexican cuisine could be lured into gluttony by such eats!

            While most Texans are familiar with Mexican cuisine, what may be surprising to many of us is the fact most European countries do not serve turkey and dressing at Christmas. In Germany, it’s roasted goose; in Italy, fried eel; in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, fried carp; in Russia, roasted pig or stuffed pig’s head; in Iceland, roasted reindeer; in France, foie gras, chapon, or Buche de Noel; and in Denmark, it’s pork roast or roast duck. The Coptic Christians in Ethiopia serve wat, a meat and vegetable stew, on flatbread at Christmas. Since Christmas comes in mid-summer in Australia, salads, cold meats, and seafood are often served on Christmas Day, though many Australians still observe the food traditions of England, such as that served by the Queen at Sandringham.

            During my childhood, my family always ate Christmas dinner at my maternal grandparents’ house, with my Wendish grandmother, the main chef. We usually had baked hen with dressing, noodles served with chicken giblets, creamed herring, and homemade koch kase (cooked cheese), just to mention the main courses (well, koch kase was actually a “nach Tisch”). No doubt the Christmas food items that contributed the most to my gluttony were the cakes, cookies and other desserts. My brother and I especially enjoyed the gingerbread men which Grandma seemed to enjoy making. Instead of the traditional American fruitcake, my grandmother made a date and spice cake. We did not have Stollen, which is considered a fruitcake and loved by Germans, and is more like a cinnamon roll/coffee cake than a cake, because Grandma was Wendish, not German. She did make “baby coffee cakes,” which were very similar to kolaches, but we never used the word, “kolache.” And she always made pecan pie and minced meat pie. My gastro system still yearns for such delectables, except I prefer American fruit cake to date/spice cake. And my mouth waters at the mere thought of creamed herring!

            Christmas is definitely not about eating sumptuous food, but maybe a little gluttony once a year won’t hurt us.

-o-

Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of the book, It Must Be the Noodles.

The Feast Of St. Nicholas, The Saint Who Gives

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for December 5, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

You should be getting and reading this week’s East Bernard Express on December 5, 2019, the Eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas (according to Lutheran and Catholic liturgical calendars, and according to Catholic tradition in East Bernard). That fact suggested to me to write my column about one of my favorite Saints, whose name obviously gave us the sobriquet, “Santa Claus.”

            Not all folks from all religions or ethnicities celebrate St. Nicholas Day, but those who have Slavic and/or Teutonic ancestors generally do. It is widely celebrated in Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, parts of Germany, and in a different way, in Mexico. Kids from the Slavic countries are doubly blessed with gifts on St. Nicholas Day and on Christmas Day. In East Bernard, and elsewhere in America where traditions were brought from the Old Country, children also receive gifts on St. Nicholas Day and on Christmas Day.

            As the Patron Saint of Russia, special traditions and celebrations of the Festival are enthusiastically observed by Russian Orthodox Christians. St. Nicholas is called “Svyatoy Nikolay” by Russians, “Mikulas” by Czechs, “Mikolajki” by Poles, “Swjaty Miklaws” by Wends, “der Heilige Nikolaus” by Germans, and “St. Nicolas de Bari” by Mexicans.

            Yes, St. Nicholas was a real Saint, not merely a legend. He was a Bishop who lived in Myra, in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and was considered Protector of Children and Sailors, and later, Patron Saint of Russia. He died on December 6, 343 A.D., in Myra, though his remains were eventually buried in Bari, Italy. He inherited a huge fortune when his wealthy parents died; and when he became a clergyman, he gave all his money to the poor so he could humbly serve God. He was very benevolent to all needy people, and especially to children. Serving as a Bishop in the Church, he would have worn red vestments and on special occasions carried a crosier (Bishop’s staff), which is why he is often depicted clad in red and holding a crosier. There are many more details about the life of St. Nicholas, but they tend to be legend rather than fact.

            Because of his love and compassion for children, traditions of gift-receiving on his Day developed among Catholics. In Poland, children receive gifts from St. Nicholas in their slippers on his Feast Day, and in Germany, children put out their shoes on the Eve of St. Nicholas to receive gifts in them. In the Czech Republic, three adults dress up like the devil, an angel, and St. Nicholas, and they go about the town, asking about each child, whether they have been good or bad, — only the “good” ones receiving gifts.

            In many parts of Mexico, The Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated on three Mondays in December, with numerous Masses being held on those three Mondays. I don’t think Mexican children, however, have the tradition of the Saint bringing them gifts on December 6; instead, on Christmas Eve, “Papa Noel,” or the Baby Jesus, bring gifts to their homes.

            Because of his generosity to all, his compassionate caring, and his love for children, many, many legends grew out of the true stories told about this extraordinary Bishop who gave so much in so many ways to so many people. Nicholas served during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, a time of severe persecution against Christians, and it was also a time of widespread poverty, as well as sickness and death caused by the Plague. As a Servant of the Word, his compassion and benevolence during such difficult times brought hope and joy to many, as he exemplified the Spirit of Christ, and thus the Spirit of Christmas.

-o-

Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.

“Turkey Day” Is A Misnomer

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 28, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            When someone calls a person a “turkey,” he usually means the person is a flop, a failure, a stupid person. In show business, a show that flops is called a “turkey.” Considering the negative connotation the word has taken on, it seems strange to me that many Americans call Thanksgiving Day “Turkey Day.” Rather sad, considering the fact that the holiday was and is supposed to be a day of thanksgiving and praise to God. “Turkey Day” is a misnomer.

            What’s so odd about calling this very meaningful American celebration “Turkey Day” is that there’s no clear evidence turkey was served at that First Thanksgiving feast in 1621 between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony. Records from that time show a menu of “waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, and pumpkin.” It is very likely they did serve turkey, because wild turkeys were so plentiful in the area, — but it wouldn’t have been the main course.

            While we’re trying to clear up misrepresentations, I would point out, contrary to the popular belief that turkeys are the dumbest animals in the world, they are not. Facts about turkeys certainly disprove that idea. According to the National Wild Turkey Confederation, turkeys have a vocabulary of 28 distinct calls (or yelps), and each call has a general meaning to the creatures, and can be used in different situations to mean different things which the flock understands. The “gobble” sound is made only by male turkeys, the “clucking” sound is made by both male and female turkeys as a socializing sound, and a “purring” sound communicates “all is well.”

            Turkeys are also smart enough to roost high in trees to keep themselves safe at night from predators. Turkeys also engage in preening and sunning themselves, followed by a dust bath, — this keeps their feathers in good condition and helps remove parasites.

            My grandparents raised turkeys, and I can tell you from personal experience that they are strong and courageous animals and will attack you if provoked. They will also work together as a group to fend off predators like snakes. In fact, because of their courage, Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be our national emblem rather than the eagle.

            So, to me, it’s rather annoying that people call a person they think is stupid, a “turkey.” Not only that, but over the years, Americans have come up with many different “turkey” awards, and they’re all uncomplimentary. Film critics, Michael Medved and Harry Medved, created the Golden Turkey Awards, which they announced in their 1980 book, The Golden Turkey Awards. The concept of the Golden Turkey was a sarcastic spin-off on the golden statue awards like Oscars and the Emmy Awards, and “honored” the worst acting, the worst directing, etc., in current movies. Michael Medved even hosted a TV series, The Worst of Hollywood, showing who deserved these awards.

            The giving of some kind of “turkey” award extended beyond Hollywood and included doing so in business, sports, journalism, etc. For example, bowling enthusiasts began to give the “Wild Turkey Award” for six consecutive strikes and the “Golden Turkey Award” for nine consecutive strikes. Over the years, sports writers for newspapers like the Tampa Bay Times have given the “Turkey Award” to the worst athlete or team for doing something stupid.

            So why do we demean Thanksgiving Day by calling it “Turkey Day,” and why do we demean turkeys by considering them “stupid”? And why do we emphasize the “feasting” part rather than the praying and praising G

            When someone calls a person a “turkey,” he usually means the person is a flop, a failure, a stupid person.  In show business, a show that flops is called a “turkey.”  Considering the negative connotation the word has taken on, it seems strange to me that many Americans call Thanksgiving Day “Turkey Day.”  Rather sad, considering the fact that the holiday was and is supposed to be a day of thanksgiving and praise to God.  “Turkey Day” is a misnomer.

            What’s so odd about calling this very meaningful American celebration “Turkey Day” is that there’s no clear evidence turkey was served at that First Thanksgiving feast in 1621 between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony.  Records from that time show a menu of “waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, and pumpkin.”  It is very likely they did serve turkey, because wild turkeys were so plentiful in the area, — but it wouldn’t have been the main course.

            While we’re trying to clear up misrepresentations, I would point out, contrary to the popular belief that turkeys are the dumbest animals in the world, they are not.  Facts about turkeys certainly disprove that idea.  According to the National Wild Turkey Confederation, turkeys have a vocabulary of 28 distinct calls (or yelps), and each call has a general meaning to the creatures, and can be used in different situations to mean different things which the flock understands.  The “gobble” sound is made only by male turkeys, the “clucking” sound is made by both male and female turkeys as a socializing sound, and a “purring” sound communicates “all is well.”

            Turkeys are also smart enough to roost high in trees to keep themselves safe at night from predators.  Turkeys also engage in preening and sunning themselves, followed by a dust bath, — this keeps their feathers in good condition and helps remove parasites.

            My grandparents raised turkeys, and I can tell you from personal experience that they are strong and courageous animals and will attack you if provoked.  They will also work together as a group to fend off predators like snakes.  In fact, because of their courage, Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be our national emblem rather than the eagle.

            So, to me, it’s rather annoying that people call a person they think is stupid, a “turkey.”  Not only that, but over the years, Americans have come up with many different “turkey” awards, and they’re all uncomplimentary.  Film critics, Michael Medved and Harry Medved, created the Golden Turkey Awards, which they announced in their 1980 book, The Golden Turkey Awards.  The concept of the Golden Turkey was a sarcastic spin-off on the golden statue awards like Oscars and the Emmy Awards, and “honored” the worst acting, the worst directing, etc., in current movies.  Michael Medved even hosted a TV series, The Worst of Hollywood, showing who deserved these awards.

            The giving of some kind of “turkey” award extended beyond Hollywood and included doing so in business, sports, journalism, etc.  Over the years, sports writers for newspapers like the Tampa Bay Times have given the “Turkey Award” to the worst athlete or team for doing something really stupid.            

So why do we demean Thanksgiving Day by calling it “Turkey Day,” and why do we demean turkeys by considering them “stupid”?  And why do we emphasize the “feasting” part rather than the praying and praising God part of Thanksgiving?  Fasting would actually be more appropriate than feasting.  So let’s face it, in the great abundance God provides us, we need to be on our knees in thanksgiving.

od part of Thanksgiving? Fasting would actually be more appropriate than feasting. So let’s face it, in the great abundance God provides us, we need to be on our knees in thanksgiving

o-

Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of the book, It Must Be the Noodles.