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Why we should wish one another a JOLLY Christmas …with chocolate yuletide logs and dark chocolates

By Spencer Hyman  ·  20th December 2021  ·  Weekly Blog

As I’m sure you are aware, Christmas is now less than ten days away …and the last postal dates for the UK are less than a week away, on Tuesday the 22nd (so please order by MONDAY NIGHT and choose Royal Mail Tracked Next Day, or DPD).

And, as you select from our range of craft chocolate Christmas gifts (see below for some highlights), we’ve also done a little research on why we gift chocolate, starting with why Christmas is a time of gifts, before exploring the links between Napoleon and chocolate yuletide logs and St. Nicholas and chocolate coins.

Why do we gift at Christmas?

As all of us who’ve been to a nativity play know, Christmas is closely wrapped up in presents, starting with the gifts brought by the three kings and wise men. Sadly chocolate hadn’t yet made it over from Peru, Ecuador and Mexico at this time, so they had to make do with gold, frankincense and myrrh (and if you want to see how these combine with chocolate, we’ve still a few of Chocolarder’s great Peruvian bars with these ingredients).

The tradition of gifting at Christmas and new year also fitted in well with pre-Christian customs. In Ancient Rome, the new year was celebrated with festivities in honour of Ianus and Strenia, and Romans would also exchange lavish presents; indeed, in Italian a Christmas gift used to be called ‘strenna‘ in homage to Strenia (Roman goddess of the new year). 

How did chocolate become associated with Chrismas?

Depending on where you are in the world, chocolate has crafted and inveigled its way into Christmas via a bunch of different traditions and customs, in particular via (chocolate) yuletide logs and chocolate coins in stockings.

Chocolate Yuletide Logs

‘Yule’ has been celebrated for millennia in Northern Europe around the time of the winter solstice, with the term “jol” meaning “parties” in Old Norse. The Old Norse term “Jól” became the Old English “ġéol” and the Old French “jolif”, which gave us the English word “jolly”.  

Part of the “jol” celebrations involved pulling a massive trunk of tree into the family hearth, and keep this burning for the next few days. The Catholic Church incorporated this custom into its own Christmas celebrations, and added in a couple of other traditions such as the sprinkling of salt, holy water, herbs, cooked wine, or oil on the log. Note: part of the fun of these traditions is that different salts and herbs will burn with very different colours (for example: table salt burns bright yellow, borax burns a vivid green, potassium nitrate burns violet, copper sulphate burns blue, etc.).

However, during the 19th century iron stoves and coal became more popular. And the traditional yuletide logs of wood became decorative fixtures. Napoleon in particular tried to end the burning of yule logs as he was convinced that the burning of wet wood was causing all sorts of illnesses and ailments. A French chef, Pierre Lacam, saw a great opportunity here as he realised he could use chocolate icing on a cake to create an edible yule ‘log’.  He named them “Bûche de Noël”, and these chocolate yuletide logs are now a mainstay of French Christmas celebrations.

If you feel like baking your own yuletide log or Bûche de Noël, we’ve a recipe HERE and strongly suggest you use our Madagascan cooking chocolate.

Or if you want to take advantage of your second stomach (read about what that means HERE) and stick with a traditional Christmas or figgy pudding, we’d still strongly recommend a craft chocolate sharing board.

Chocolate Coins

Another way that chocolate has entered Christmas traditions is via chocolate coins.

In Northern Europe these traditions can be traced back to St. Nicholas, a 4th century Bishop who was later canonised as a saint for his good deeds and his generosity. One of the stories of this generosity has him giving bags full of gold coins to the three daughters of a poor farmer so that they would have dowries and could get married. Wishing to be discreet, St. Nicholas delivered the bags of coins anonymously by dropping them down the chimney and into the fireplace (other stories have him throwing the bags of gold coins through the window).

St. Nicholas was also famed for his generosity and concern for children. And over time he became a patron saint of vhildren. Indeed in many parts of Europe children are given presents on the eve of St Nicholas’ day (the 5th of December), including sweets and chocolate coins (this is the origin of Chocolate Makers’ SinterKlaas bar as in the Netherlands St. Nicholas’ festival is also known as SinterKlaas; or as we’d write in English, Santa Claus). Any which way, the Sinterklaas bar makes a great stocking stuffer bar.

Italy has a similar tradition. But instead of St. Nicholas / Santa Claus, in Italy it is an old lady known as Befana who delivers gifts to Italian children on the eve of Epiphany (i.e. the evening of January the 5th). And she fills the socks left out by the children either with candy, chocolate and presents if they’ve been good, or with coal and a stick if they’ve been naughty. Given that almost all children will have at some point been naughty or misbehaved during the year, the Italians have also developed an intriguing tradition of leaving a lump of coal (actually rock candy made black with caramel colouring) in the stockings.

The Befana is also very different to Santa Claus in that she is usually portrayed as a hag who rides a broomstick, wears a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney. On the positive side, she is often smiling and carries a bag or hamper filled with candy, gifts, and also coal (or black candy).

Unfortunately we don’t have any craft chocolate coins (yet). But we do have some great craft chocolate Christmas bars.  And we do have one bar that we think the Befana would strongly approve of; Omnom’s ‘black and burnt’ bar for all those kids who have, at some point, misbehaved, but deserve a fun treat.

And for other great craft chocolate Christmas gifts, please see below. Just please order sooner rather than later! And no later than Monday evening even if you are here in the UK.

Spencer

P.S. If you are stuck for solutions for an office party, family get together etc. and would like to do a virtual craft chocolate tasting (including with wine or whisky or coffee) please do contact us HERE or write to corporate@navigatorcommerce.com

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