BOOK OF CHRISTMAS - online book

The Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions, Superstitions, Fun, Feeling,
And Festivities Of The Christmas Season.

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SIGHTS OF THE SEASON.                                 97
But however lightly we may allude to the other articles which enter into the charge of the commissariat department, and have no distinctive character, at this particular season, beyond their unimaginable abundance,—we are by no means at liberty, with­out a more special notice, to pass over the mystery of Mince-pie ! We speak not here of the merits of that marvellous compound; because a dish which has maintained; without impeachment, since long before the days of honest old Tusser (who calls these mar­vels shred-pies), the same supreme character which it holds amongst the men of these latter days, may very well dispense with our commendation : and every school-boy knows, from his own repeated experience, the utter inadequacy of language to convey any notion of the ineffable flavor of his unapproachable viand. The poverty of speech is never so conspicuous, as when even its richest forms are used for the purpose of describing that which is utterly beyond its resources; and we have witnessed most lamentable, although ludicrous failures, on the part of elo­quent, but imprudent men, in their ambitious attempts to give expression to their sensations, under the immediate influence of this unutterable combination. It is, therefore, to other properties than those which make their appeal to the palate, that we must confine ourselves, in our mention of mince-pie.
The origin of this famous dish, like that of the heroic in all kinds and classes, is involved in fable. By some it has been sup­posed, from the oriental ingredients which enter into its composi­tion, to have a reference (as probably had also the plum-porridge of those days) to the offerings made by the wise men of the East; and it was anciently the custom to make these pies of an oblong form, thereby representing the manger in which, on that occasion, those sages found the infant Jesus. Against this practice (which was of the same character with that of the little image called the Yule Dough, or Yule Cake, formerly presented by bakers to their customers, at the anniversary of the Nativity), the puritans made a vehement outcry, as idolatrous ;—and certainly it appears to us somewhat more objectionable than many of those which they de­nounced, in the same category. Of course, it was supported by the Catholics with a zeal, the larger part of which (as in most cases of controversv where the passions are engaged) was de-*8
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