Embers in December

People visit a Christmas market on November 24, 2015 in Erfurt. AFP PHOTO / DPA / SEBASTIAN KAHNERT

December in the northern hemisphere is the darkest of all months. As midwinter advent solstice days get shorter, nights get longer and colder. All one needs is the warmth of the glow of a fire. As each night gets darker, we need another candle to lift our spirits, another log in the fire to warm our hearts. 

In the old times that one log sometimes meant life; the glow of the ember was the light of survival. In pre-industrial Europe heating was a major problem during harsh winters and the symbolism of a burning log goes back to pre-Christian times, when gathering around the open hearth with a big burning log was the core of celebrations. The Old Norse "jól" festival marking the winter solstice is the inspiration behind the Yule Log cake, and the ubiquitous French "Bûche de Noël."  The origins of French log cake remain obscure, but in the nineteenth century the fashion flourished in Parisian patisseries. The fashion spread as far as Turkey, where it was adopted as the New Year's cake in Istanbul's French style pastry shops. 

Now that we're in the advent period, another way to warm our souls is with a glass of mulled wine. I tend to use the word Glühwein, as I'm more used to Germanic Weichnacht traditions. Glühwein gets its name again from the embers of dark and cold nights. The verb Glühend in German means to glow; it is a wine warmed over the embers, a wine that glows with the warmth of spices and a wine that makes you glow with rosy cheeks, slightly light-headed with the slow flow of alcohol in your veins. Swedish Glögg has the same meaning and is even more potent than its German counterpart, with the occasional pour of some aquavit to the concoction. Mulled wines of all sorts are dangerously delicious to drink. In the open air under falling fairy...

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