Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Spicing Up The Holidays

Have you ever wondered why so many holiday dishes and beverages are flavored with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and ginger?

Holiday gatherings are meant to spread cheer, and are an occasion to enjoy the fruits of our hard labor. After the feast, everyone is expected to go back to their regular lives, and resume their daily tasks. Before we start something new, it is customary to engage in rituals or prayers that will bring good fortune in the days ahead, and we often eat or drink specific foods and beverages that hold a certain symbolism; on new year’s eve, for example, we eat greens for prosperity, and toast with bubbly champagne to augur happy, successful moments to come.

So, what about spices? Do we simply use them because they are flavorful, or are there other reasons connected to the origins of their widespread use? Aside from their antibacterial properties – which proved to be very useful during pre-refrigeration days – each spice is said to have a unique magical power. By adding the spices to food and beverages, it was believed that the food itself would become magical and, once consumed, would ensure good fortune to the person eating it.

Ginger is believed to bring on great wealth; cinnamon is believed to bring success, and “speed up” the time of manifestation of that which we desire, while nutmeg is famous for bringing good luck; a sprinkle of nutmeg on potatoes – which are often used to represent humans - or over green candles coated with honey, is said to open the doors to prosperity. Vanilla is instead used to attract love.

A great part of this folk knowledge is lost through time, but some of the traditions it is incorporated in survive, and are dutifully observed by many. Discovering the hidden properties of different herbs and spices can be quite fascinating and entertaining, and it can certainly open the mind to some of the amazing wisdom we have mostly allowed to dissipate.

And maybe, the next time we hurriedly bite into a cinnamon roll, we’ll take a moment from our busy schedule to make a wish from the heart.

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