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Co-opted pagan rituals may be the source of trees and holy, yule logs, mulled wine, but feasting and gift giving at the darkest time of year is one of the oldest human traditions. Now this practice is a huge commercial enterprise, an orgy of consumerism. But what would this practice have meant to someone a thousand years ago?

Anne Hagen begins her book Anglo Saxon Food with a list of famine years gleaned from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. The distribution of crop failures floods and other causes of lean years means that a 40 year old person would have witnessed no less than three famine years, watching neighbours, elders, probably children die from hunger.

No grocery store, no corner market, no way to get more food once the food is gone.

Now it is December in an average year, good crops, healthy animals. You have all the grain and dried beans, apples, and other preservable produce you will have for the rest of the winter. This must last through the starving months of spring before the first crops of the next year. You've culled your stock of all but the best animals and kept as many as you think you can feed through the winter on the produce that must also sustain you and your children and leave enough to plant in the spring.

Now you choose to celebrate, to be generous, to give away precious food. With nothing but the slow decent into want ahead of you.

What a beautiful two fingers up at fates and fears. What a brave, noble, wise thing to do. Building bonds of gratitude in the community in a festival celebrating above all elseā€¦



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