Once more the season has come round in which our Saviour's birth is celebrated, and though more than eighteen centuries have passed away, still the clarion voice rings as fresh as ever in our ears—" Goodwill toward men." From the highest to the lowest the sacred charm still works its magic spell. What child was ever sent to bed before its time, no matter what the crime, on Christmas Day ? Oh, if we could only embed in our hearts throughout the year one half the charity that for very shame seems forced on us on this great festival, how far happier should we be !
It is not, however, now my province to dwell upon the sacred character of the day, yet the whole subject is so deep, so unfathomable, that, like a still phosphorescent sea, the slightest touch is instantly surrounded by a halo of glory, faintly and dimly revealing to finite minds the infinite brightness that is hidden in its breast, and I cannot bear to enter into the practical details of the day's festivities without some slight allusion in honour of the Author and Founder of the feast.
Now—the higher duties of the season being of course left out of the question—Christmas Day without its dinner would be like the play of " Hamlet " with the part of Hamlet omitted. A genuine Christmas dinner, too, reveals our real national taste, and proves to ourselves and all the world that we have nGt yet acquired a French one. I wonder if it is possible for a statistician to calculate how many huge sirloins of beef and immense turkeys are consumed on Christmas Day. Such substantial fare—so unkick-shawlike. Nor must we forget the goose of humbler life. Were it possible to calculate the exact amount of gratification given by mere eating, it would probably be found that the aristocratic sirloin and turkey fail to compare with the goose and sage and onion. We may add, especially the sage and onion.
We will suppose the happy morning to have arrived, and the children gathered round the table, with cheeks so flushed with pleasure and anticipation that they rival in colour the bright-red berries that glisten in the holly on the walls. Bright eyes to match the bright cheeks, eyes that have sparkled brighter as the well-known and lookecl-for chink has occurred, as the annual Christmas-box has been slipped into the hand by the grey-haired father or uncle, as the case may be—whose own eye is tinged with water as his mind goes back to the time, too, when he himself was a boy, without a care or thought of the morrow, and who, conscious of the joy he's giving, walks away with a lighter pocket but far lighter heart.
Happy, happy times! Is there one who at such a moment has an anxious care ? Yes—suppose the beef should be raw, the mince-pie burnt, and the pudding all tumble to pieces the moment it is turned out. Were it known, I daresay tears have been shed upon such trifles; but then trifles make up life.
Perhaps the deepest anxiety is about the pudding. I will give the following recipe, which I have always found an excellent one. The ingredients required are—one pound and a half of muscatel raisins, half a pound of currants, quarter of a pound of sultana raisins, half a pound of mixed candied peel, three-quarters of a pound of bread-crumbs, three-quarters of a pound of suet chopped fine, nine eggs, quarter of an ounce of pounded bitter almonds, a table-spoonful of flour, a table-spoonful of moist sugar, and a quarter of a pint of brandy.
The first thing to do is to stone the raisins. Cut the raisins into two pieces, and in taking out the pips or stones be careful not to take out the pulp. For this reason it is undesirable to leave the stoning of the raisins to young persons. It is more than human nature can bear, and the strongest-minded child is apt to suck his or her fingers during the process, which, in addition to being far from nice, is apt to detract from the rich muscatel flavour of the pudding. The currants should be bought some days before they are wanted, in order that they may be first washed and then dried. Spread them out on a large sheet of coarse paper before the kitchen fire, and occasionally stir them about. They will also require picking, and this wants both care and patience; those little tiny stalks of the currants are very disagreeable to get into the mouth, and still more into a hollow tooth, for which they seem to have a natural affinity. The candied peel should be sliced into little, very thin slices, and not chopped up. The bread-crumbs should be made as fine as possible, and the suet chopped up very fine. Care should be taken to get the very best beef suet, that will chop properly, as some suet has a tendency to get into a creamy mass ; when this is the case it is impossible to make a proper pudding of it The dry ingredients should now be placed in a large basin, and thoroughly mixed together, care being taken to put in the pounded bitter almonds little by little. The eggs should be broken one by one into a cup, in order to see that each one is perfectly fresh. One stale egg will quite spoil a pudding. Beat up the eggs all together till they froth, and mix them in with the rest, and add the brandy. If the breadcrumbs were properly dried, it would not be found to be too moist.
Next take a new pudding-cloth, that has been well boiled in plain water, and butter it thoroughly, and then flour it. Turn the pudding into it and tie it, leaving room for the pudding to swell. The cloth must be fastened very securely, and it is as well to tie it in two places, in case of accidents. This pudding must now be boiled for at least six hours. It will always be found best to make the pudding some days before it is required; hang it up in the cloth, putting something underneath it to catch the drops; and a pudding made as we have directed will keep good for months and months. It only requires warming up for a couple of hours in a large saucepan of boiling water, and then turning out.
Now that awfully critical moment—turning out. Care should be taken to peel off the cloth, and not pull it; the reason of this is self-evident. On Christmas Day a piece of bright holly, with some red berries on it, should be stuck on the top of the pudding, and some lighted brandy poured over and round it. If you take my advice, you will light the brandy in the room.