Mincemeat: The oldest recipe comes from 15th century England. All the commonly recognized spices of today were known then, but what is not commonly known is that this was a way of preserving meat during the winter months. Without the convenience of stores, meat had to be preserved during the dark and cold months of Yule, when game was sparse and hunting in stormy weather could mean the loss of a man’s life. Mince Pie / Mincemeat was so closely associated with Paganism that the early Church declared it an “idolatry” punishable by public flogging.
Lebkuchen: The oldest recipe comes from 14th century Germany, and was original called ‘honey cake’. And honey has a long history, recognized in Germanic, Roman, Greek, and Egyptian mythology as a gift from the gods. Lebkuchen means “sweet loaf bread, life/body cake”, and its combination of spice – akin to Gingerbread – was used as an anti-inflammatory, an anti-viral, and anti-tumor. In short, the perfect food to preserve health during the long winter months. While living in Germany I learned from the local witches that Lebkuchen was left on the hearth at Yule, and if, in the morning, it was dusted with white sugar, Frau Holle was pleased with you.
Shortbread: Shortbread is purely Scottish, and was eaten during Yule to bring about good luck. Symbolizing the sun, it was the Yule Cake, and is assuredly the Seed Cake mentioned by Professor J.R.R. Tolkien in his famous books. Likewise, it was eaten during Handfastings, and Birthing Rites. My Welsh grandmother made Shortbread that she cut into stars to hang on the Yule Tree.
Wassail was originally hot, spiced mead; today it is often made from red wine or apple juice.
Mead is a combination of sacred elements: Air, Fire, and Water. Combined, these ingredients are the cornerstone of daily life, the groundwork of primitive science, and integral to magic. Otherwise, from the Collection of Ordinances for the Royal Household, 1790 CE, we find an account of a wassail ceremony, as it was practiced in Court, during “Twelfth Night”. Of note is mead and its relationship with pledging or oath taking:
When the steward came in at the doore with the wassel,
he was to crie three tymes,
Wassel, wassel, wassel;
And then the chappell were to answere with a songe:
The kyng to morrow schal ete here,
He and alle hys men,
Ever one of us and one of them,
To geger schal sitte at the mete,
And when they haue almost y-ete,
I wole say wassayle to the kyng,
And sle hym with oute any lesyng!
However, mead / wassail was not the only popular drink during Yule:
–Braggot, a brew halfway between mead and ale, and
–Lamb’s Wool, a mixture of mead and beer.
Finally, I would like to include “Yule Dough”, which is a dough image. In my family, this image is of the God during this time of year, and of the Goddess during the opposing side of the year. It was this tradition that led to the creation of “Yule Cakes”, which, were small pies containing “sweet meat” (see Mincemeat above).