December 16, 2010

"An Internation Christmas" at Sagtikos

On Sunday, I went over to the Sagtikos Manor to take their Christmas tour. The theme for the decorations this year is "Christmas in many lands;" each room of the home is set up to show the unique traditions from a different country with costumed docents in each place to explain things in detail. I am always very interested to hear about other cultures and being that this event revolved around Christmas festivities made it a "must-see" for me. As I ascended the steps to the front porch, I found sprigs of rosemary wrapped in bows. My fingers took on the sweet scent as I ran my hand across the branches. The aroma stayed with me all morning.

The tour begins in the Music Room. As I passed through the front door, I left behind icy Long Island and stepped into a Christmas scene from the Italian Countryside. In lieu of the evergreen boughs that I am used to seeing during the holidays, this room is dressed up mostly in freshly-cut flowers. A potted olive tree adorned with oranges is propped on a chair, looking quite festive. In the place where one would usually find a Christmas Tree, stands a Ceppo -- a triangular, wooden shelf that houses a nativity, a row of gilded walnuts, candles, and several other treasures, topped off with an angel. As the docent explains, the gift-bringer in Italy is not Santa Claus, but La Befana -- an old woman who reminds me a bit of a Halloween witch.

The next room of the Manor, the Gardiner Parlor, is decorated for Christmas as it is celebrated in Spain. I was greeted with a cheerful "Feliz Navidad" as I walked out of Italy into this new world. In Spain, the emphasis is on the Nativity and the Magi, who are the gift-bringers and arrive on January 6 for the Epiphany. For this event, Spanish families put out a special Three Kings Cake (sort of a fruity ring).

From Spain, the tour moves on to the Van Cortlandt Parlor where I found the country that originated the Christmas Tree, Germany! Here, a woman in a Dirndl dress entertains the visitors by playing "Oh Tannenbaum" on the accordion. She goes on to explain the significance of a pickle on a German Christmas Tree--on Christmas morning, the first child to find the pickle on the tree gets an extra present from St. Nick!

The Colonial Kitchen of the manor is made up in the traditions of a Scandinavian Christmas. In this part of the world, the gift-bringer is a mischievous gnome-like creature named Julenisse. Instead of milk and cookies by the fireplace, Julenisse prefers a bowl of spiced porridge in the barn.

The elegant Dining Room of the house represents an "English Christmas during the Golden Age of Luxury, Service, and Style." Decorations of greenery, berries, and fruit surround a table set with sparkling silverware and crystal glasses. At the center of the table is the plum pudding, served with brandy butter. I've always been curious about plum pudding; it looks so fascinating when I see it presented on TV, flaming and garnished with a piece of holly. When I asked the docent about the flavor, she replied "like Fruit Cake with a lighter texture."

(*Note -- If the mere mention of the term "Fruit Cake" brings to your mind only jokes about unwanted gifts and bits of cherry that could double as pebbles only with less flavor, I suggest you try a fruit cake from HERE -- I never liked fruit cake until I tried one from the Monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani. They've raised the bar completely.)

From the Dining Room, a french maid directs the tour into the Butler's Pantry. Here, one finds a table of delicious goodies softly illuminated by candlelight. On Christmas Eve in France, it is traditional to serve thirteen desserts. This meal is meant to represent the 12 apostles and Jesus dining together at the last supper and it is said to be good luck to eat all 13 desserts.

This was the first time that I had ever been to the Sagtikos Manor and I heard that the house has many more rooms and a long history.  Tours of the entire home and grounds are offered during the warm months of the year and that is definitely something that I would like to check out...

This tour of International Christmas celebrations left me feeling so inspired that I spent the rest of the day in my own kitchen, making Christmas delights. I baked two kinds of cookies (Orange-Glazed Banana and Ground-Raisin Cookies) and put together a gingerbread train. Fun!

Wishing you all of the joy and Christmas spirit that your heart can hold. Cheers!!!

"Be imitators of God, therefore,
as dearly loved children and live a life of love."

~Ephesians 5:1