Welcome Yule! (Winter Solstice)

AdobeStock_143301654-Yule-CHart
Welcome to the best day of the year:
WINTER SOLSTICE or YULE!

Love this day because it means quite simply that… We made it! Starting tomorrow we are seconds closer to longer days and the light.  (Be sure to check out our 4th week of RATK tomorrow as well.) But before we get into how we celebrate the darkest day of the year, here is a bit of information for those of you who may not be aware of the history of Winter Solstice and Yule, and how its related to modern day Christmas traditions.

The word ‘solstice’ comes from two Latin words: sol which means SUN and sistere means “to stand still.”  To the ancients standing on Earth and looking up at the sky, it appeared that the sun stood still at this time of year. This is longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and is celebrated for the renewal of the sun – which is promised.

Yule, pronounced EWE-elle, is when the darkness of this part of the year finally recedes and gives way to the light. Literally, the very next morning at sunrise we are seconds closer to longer days. It’s a rebirth, and also  gorgeous reminder that we are all connected to a larger network, nature, renewal and the cycle of change.

Some ancient customs and rituals around Yule/Winter Solstice include:

Ancient Ireland: Celts celebrated Meán Geimhridh during the Winter Solstice each day from Dec 19 -23rd by creating a sacred room or hallway at proper angles to catch the light.

Slavic countries (Russia, Bulgaria, and Ukraine etc):  Believed in evil spirits and that they were at their apex on the shortest, darkest day of the year.  “Darkness and the Black God defeated the sun on the Winter Solstice, after which a New Sun was born. The Old Sun, named Hors, was commemorated with a ritual dance.”

Asia: Chinese and other East Asians celebrate the Winter Solstice as well with the Donghi Festival – a time for rejoicing at the longer light hours to come, symbolizing an increase in positive energy (chi).

Nordic countries: Celebrates with a Yule Goat also known as Julbok. Thankfully, it isn’t a real animal and is typically made of straw. Its origins are rooted in mythology, but still adopted as part of modern Christian tradition. Most Christmas traditions are rooted deep in ancient Yule rituals, many coming from the Vikings. “Even the Christmas tree goes back to pre-Christian times. The Vikings decorated evergreen trees with pieces of food and clothes, small statues of the Gods, carved runes, etc., to entice the tree spirits to come back in the spring.”

Ancient Romans: The Saturnalia was the most popular holiday of the Roman year, was designated a holy day, or holiday, on which religious rites were performed, and described as one of “the best of days” (Poems, XIV). A time when a “whole mob has let itself go in pleasures” (Epistles, XVIII.3). It was an occasion for celebration, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts, particularly wax candles (cerei), perhaps to signify the returning light after the solstice, and sigillaria.

England: We can’t talk about Winter Solstice without mentioning one of the most famous celebrations on the planet which takes place at Stonehenge. The ancient ruins of the Druids and Pagans who would gather there to chant, dance and sing through the night waiting for the sun to rise through the monolithic stones. Many people still travel there today to experience and take part in this magical tradition.

Germany: Evidently it was devout Christians from 16th century Germans who get all the credit for starting the tradition of having a decorated Christmas tree brought into their homes. Some say it was Martin Luther, who added lighted candles to a tree because he was in awe of the bright light from the stars above twinkling amidst evergreens. He wanted to recreate what he saw, so he put up tree in this main living area with lighted candles attached to branches by wires.

According to history.com:

“The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. 

Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans. [And] After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. Also around this time, English author Charles Dickens created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story’s message-the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind-struck a powerful chord in the United States and England and showed members of Victorian society the benefits of celebrating the holiday. The family was also becoming less disciplined and more sensitive to the emotional needs of children during the early 1800s. Christmas provided families with a day when they could lavish attention-and gifts-on their children without appearing to “spoil” them.

As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.”


It’s widely known that the early years of Christianity designated Easter as the main holiday and the birth of Jesus wasn’t celebrated at all. It wasn’t until around the 4th century that Pope Julius I decided to create a holiday for his birth and chose December 25. It was called the Feast of the Nativity, and that custom made its way and spread to Egypt in 432, on to England by the 6th century and all the way to Scandinavia by the 8th century.

Fascinating to learn how these ancient rituals influenced modern day Winter Solstice, Yule and Christmas and that we are left with one thing that connects them all: food and drink. Sharing food is particularly meaningful during solstice as it represents faith in the return of the sun and the harvest. It’s also the a beloved part of the Christmas tradition.

 

Orange and spices
Fruits and spices

Cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, turkey, eggnog, ginger tea, spiced cider, wassail, or lamb’s wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted apples) are a few of the foods associated with Yule. With the prevailing constant being some version of mulled wine. Natural Living listed some traditional beverages for Winter Solstice, Yule Christmas and even New Years:

  1. Gluhwein: This drink originated in German-speaking countries. It is a red wine heated with cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, clovescitrus and sugar. Romainians call it vin fiert, in Moldova it is izvar, Italy it is vin brule, and in Latvia it is karstvins.
  2. Glogg: This drink originated in the Nordic countries and was also called glug.  It is red wine mixed with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, bitter orange and sugar and sometimes with vodka, akvavit or brandy. It is usually served with raisins, blanched almonds and gingerbread.
  3. Navegado: This is a mulled wine from Chile. It is heated with cinnamon sticks, orange slices, cloves, sugar with raisins and almonds added.
  4. Wassail: This drink is a mulled cider from Germanic countries. The word wassail comes from waes haeil, which means “be healthy”. The historical wassail drinks were more of a mulled beer or mead. They made it by mixing sugar, ale, nutmeg and cinnamon in a bowl which was then heated. They topped it with slices of toast which they called sops. The wassail bowl looked like a goblet and was made out of wood.  Later the drink became associated with apples and the song was sung around the apple tree for the next year’s harvest. A-wassailing was going door to door, singing and asking (demanding?) the drink from the household, usually the rich in the town.
  5. Hypocras: Another mulled wine heated with spices such as cinnamon, ginger, grains of paradise and long pepper.  This drink was named after Hippocrates. Hypocras became more popular after the crusades until its popularity waned during the 18th century.
  6. Eggnog: This drink was developed backed in the 1700’s in Europe. It was mixed with eggs and warm milk and served in a wooden mug called a noggin. Traditionally it was mixed with Sherry or Brandy. George Washington loved eggnog and he crafted his own recipes!

 

So today Dec 21, 2017 at 11:28am, we welcome Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere – the darkest day of the year. Though it made be the official start of Winter, it’s also the end of darkness and the dawn of light! How can that be bad?

For those of you interested in connecting with nature today and and preparing for the closure of the year, there are some rituals you can preform that are simple and easy to do:

• Try to stay away from electronics today. (yikes!)
• Try a meditation at sunrise and sunset. Ideally outside if the weather supports it.
• Smudge yourself and your home to purify, or to clean out negative thoughts. You can light dried rosemary, sage and lavender and walk around your home allowing the smoke to waft and purify the space.
• Leave a gift for nature such as sliced fruit such as sliced apples and seed for the birds, and other creatures.
• Try making and sipping a Winter-Solstice-Yule-Christmas Decoction (Tea):

  • 2 tsp black tea (Kenya black)
  • 3-4 cups filtered water (depending on desired strength)
  • ½ an (organic) apple, peeled
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks (Sri Lankan)
  • ½ inch chunk of fresh organic ginger, peeled
  • ½ tsp (organic) orange zest
  • Optional: cloves or star anise or caraway seeds
  • A few (organic) raisins
  • Local honey if sweetness is desired

Place all ingredients into a pot and simmer slowly for about 8-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for another 10 minutes or so. Strain into a cup or mug. Add a few raisins and honey if desired. If you prefer to make this into a Glogg, spike it with dash of brandy then sip by candlelight, relax and direct your thoughts to gratitude for having a roof over your head, people to love, for being loved, and for knowing that the darkness is over and tomorrow we are given the gift of more light.

Happy Solstice!
Happy Yule!
Happy Christmas!
Happy Sipping!
~ The Chief Leaf

 

 

Advertisements
Welcome Yule! (Winter Solstice)

Tea Kindness #03: Breakfast Blend

AdobeStock_177944371.blacktea_Pot
Breakfast Blend 

 

Good morning and welcome English Breakfast Tea. Grab your cuppa and settle in…

Some take this tea for granted. Writing it off as plain or even boring. Others revere its simplicity and classic black tea taste and will not entertain the idea of drinking anything else. Some enjoy this elixir straight, while others prefer to embellish with cream and sugar. In either scenario, English Breakfast drinkers are loyal to their brew.

What appears to be just a simple black tea, is anything but. Many are unaware that unless it’s a Single Origin black tea, it’s actually a black tea blend – which in general means that different lots of black teas are combined to make what has typically become known as English Breakfast. (Or Irish or Scottish.)

Black tea is purchased at auctions and then blended to fit a specific desired flavor profile. An example of this would be Twinings which tastes the way it does because different teas are blended together to match their brand taste/profile. There is no Twinings tea bush growing somewhere that they pluck from and process. It takes a highly seasoned and experienced tea master to blend and make it taste the exact same way year after year. Tea is a crop after all and subject to environmental changes which affect its flavor.

So what exactly is English Breakfast tea and where did it come from?

Evidently, it all started with Catherine of Braganza – the Portuguese wife of Charles II. (The English have a foreigner to thank for introducing tea and helping it become a staple in the English lifestyle.) Catherine had grown up drinking tea and brought it with her when she made her way to England in 1662. Because of her, it became fashionable for the upper class and royal court to drink tea.  Over time tea gradually made its way through class structure “turning it into the class-boundary-busting drink it is today.”

Though it’s not entirely known how tea became the preferred morning drink at breakfast, there are some theories that King Charles successor, Queen Anne (1665-1714), chose to drink tea over ale (aka: beer) with her breakfast. Others soon followed and it became well established as the morning drink of choice by the 18th Century.

What many might find surprising is that English Breakfast Tea wasn’t even “invented” in England.  It was first developed by the Scottish Tea Master Drysdale in Edinburg. The original blend was a combination of fine black teas from India and China and included some Keemun which is a full bodied black Chinese tea that is often toasty. He simply called it “Breakfast Tea”  – and because Queen Victoria loved “all things Scottish” it immediately became popular. Tea merchants in London used the power of branding and marketing and changed the name to what is now known as ENGLISH Breakfast Tea which is how its most commonly known today.

Most tea companies have a version of English Breakfast which can greatly vary in aroma and taste. Some use heavy China black teas, others a combination of Indian black teas. Ours is a blend of Indian black teas. It’s smooth, classic and is missing the heaviness and “smoke” in the aftertaste common in other blends. We drink it in its natural state without cream and sugar, but it does stand up well to both.

This week we delight in offering our Breakfast Blend for the 3rd week of our Random Acts of (Tea) Kindness Holiday Sale, enter code: RATKBB at Checkout on our website to enjoy 25% OFF our Breakfast Blend.  Discount ends on Thursday Dec 21th at 11:59pm.

Be sure to tag us on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) with #PFTeaKindness with one of your Pearl Fine Teas and you may be the recipient of a FREE Breakfast Blend!

Cheerio and Happy Sipping!
~The Chief Leaf

Tea Kindness #03: Breakfast Blend

Tea Kindness #02: Black Vanilla Bean

vanilla tea
Black Vanilla Bean Tea (Caffeinated)

Are you still following us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook? Last week we gave away Rooibos Blueberry to a random tea lover.

For our second week of our Random Acts of (Tea) Kindness, we’re featuring  Black Vanilla Bean. That old cliche about vanilla being boring is simply, not true.

• Did you know that Vanilla is actually a member of the orchid family?
• That it’s origins are native to the Caribbean, and South and Central America?
• And that it’s only second to saffron as most expensive spice in the world?

Check out this fabulous and fascinating article written by Nat Geo about the History of Vanilla.

For those of you who lean towards the vanilla/dessert on the tea spectrum, this is your cup of tea. The base is a black tea from Vietnam that is balance, smooth and without smoke. The vanilla bean flavor is rich, real, and righteous. The aroma reminds me of a homemade vanilla cake without the sugary sweetness. Brewed correctly it requires no sugar. Should you desire sugar, a literal dot is the right amount.

Flavored black tea blends can be tricky to balance. Not this one. You won’t find a nicer Vanilla Bean Black Tea anywhere.

To take advantage of our Random Acts of (Tea) Kindness Holiday Sale, enter code: RATKVAN at Checkout on our website to enjoy 20% OFF Black Vanilla Bean Tea!

Discount ends on Thursday Dec 8th at 11:59pm.

Happy Sipping!
~The Chief Leaf

Tea Kindness #02: Black Vanilla Bean

Tea Kindness #01: Blueberry Rooibos

Blueberry Bliss Rooibos Tea.
Blueberry Rooibos

Welcome to December and the first Friday of the last month of the year. We’re only 8 days out from Thanksgiving and it seemed appropriate to kick things off with Blueberry Rooibos Tisane – given how important blueberries were to settlers from England. Why no one associates blueberries with that American holiday is a mystery to me. Here’s a little blueberry history:

During the 17th century, (when ships landed in the New World) settlers started to colonize and clear land for farming so that they could grow food to survive. Since the New World had a very different terrain (and climate) successful farming was difficult. It wasn’t until 1620, when Wampanoag Indians stepped in and taught the Pilgrims new skills to help them survive. This included planting corn, foraging, gathering native plants and how to find, dry and store blueberries for winter. That mighty berry actually became a critical food source; and a beverage made of blueberries became a major staple during the Civil War.

But blueberries go father back then just the 17th Century.  Botanists estimate them to be the oldest living thing on earth: around 13,000 years old. In comparison, according to Chinese legend, the history of tea began in 2737 B.C.E.

If you are a blueberry fan, as I am, you will love this Tisane. (Remember a Tisane is what you call herbs, spices and rooibos – which isn’t actually Tea.) The green and red rooibos base blended with dried blueberries is fantastic hot and also over ice. Its a great tea for children to enjoy or anyone that is sensitive to caffeine. It’s got a desert-like quality to it and a natural sweetness without any added sugar.

Rooibos has so many health benefits which I discussed in past posts, but here is a top 10 List:

  1. Naturally caffeine free–recommended for people suffering from irritability, headaches, insomnia, hypertension, nervous tension and mild depression.
  2. Rich in antioxidants that boost the body’s immune system.
  3. May help slow the ageing process.
  4. Anti-spasmodic, thus relieving stomach cramps
  5. Low in tannins–won’t impair the absorption of iron and protein in the body.
  6. Helpful for the relief of stomach/digestive problems like nausea, heartburn, stomach ulcers and constipation.
  7. Anti-allergic–has a soothing effect on irritated skin when directly applied to the affected area.
  8. Free of oxalic acid; safe for people suffering from kidney stones.
  9. Beneficial in the management of allergies like hay fever, asthma & eczema.
  10. High in minerals, complementing our daily intake of iron, calcium, magnesium & zinc; needed for maintaining a healthy immune system.

If you are new to Rooibos, this blend is a nice introduction. From today, Dec 1 through Dec 7th, please enjoy an added discount on our Blueberry Rooibos by using code: RATK20 at checkout!

** Remember to follow along on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram because someone will be chosen randomly to receive this tea for free during our Random Acts of (Tea) Kindness Initiative this month.

Happy Sipping!
~The Chief Leaf

Tea Kindness #01: Blueberry Rooibos

(Tea) Kindness

15871498_10154299607400773_3691348227944894657_n
Illustration credit to Random Acts of Kindness.org

A cute cartoon came through my news feed on Facebook from RandomActsofKindness.org.  If you aren’t familiar with them, it’s worth checking out.  I’ve seen posts from them before, but this one? I loved best. Probably because it shows a cute mini-monk sipping tea with his beloved cat friend–also sipping tea. So happy. So peaceful. So comforting. In one little cartoon.

I’m a huge fan of small things and Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) overall. I’ve seen and experienced first hand what it does for the person on the receiving end – as well as the person initiating the kindness. Always a win-win. I also believe in the Number 1. And that 1 person, 1 thought, 1 step, 1 action can make a big difference. Even just sitting with someone over a simple cup of tea can have tremendous impact.

2017 was a milestone for Pearl Fine Teas. It marked a decade in the world of tea. We just kept going 1 step at a time…. 1 sip at a time… and woke up in July celebrating our 10 year Anniversary. This business has brought a lot of joy from so many people… even strangers (some who have become friends.) There have been many kindnesses bestowed along the way and I hope I’ve been paying it forward under my little 100 sq ft TeaTent each week.

redmug_logo

Last year I blogged 25 Days of Tea leading up to Christmas Day. This year starting Friday December 1st and every Friday until Dec 29th, we’ll feature a tea, a holiday discount and offer a weekly Random Act of (Tea) Kindness. We’ll choose someone from our Twitter, Facebook,  Instagram or from our E-mail sign up list to receive a free 25gram bag of one of our most popular loose leaf teas.

If you haven’t signed up on our website for specials and news, you can click here.  Be sure to follow us on social media – especially on Fridays! And… if you feel inspired to participate in a Random Act of (Tea) Kindness, use the hashtag  #PFTeaKindness and tag us so we can see how you are changing lives one small, random act at a time!

Happy Sipping!
~The Chief Leaf

 

(Tea) Kindness

Samhain, Tasseography + Botanomancy

Samhain-pronunciation
The origin of Halloween

Huh?

Samhain (pronounced: sow-in)
We have the Celts to thank for the ancient festival of Samhain – which dates back 2,000 years in the region of the world currently known as the UK (Ireland and Scotland) and northern part of France. Nov 1 officially marked the beginning of their new year, the end of summer and the beginning of winter, which was associated with (human) death. On the night before (Oct 31), they believed that the veil between the living and spirit world was blurred, and that ghosts and the dead returned to earth.  They also believed that the presence of spirits helped enhance predictions for the future by Druids and Celtic priests. They built sacred bonfires, wore animal heads and skins as costumes to ward off ghosts and told fortunes.

Fast forward to modern times (The eighth century), when Pope Gregory III declared November 1 All Saints Day (and incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain) known then as All Hallows Eve, and now as Halloween. Over time, it evolved into activities like pumpkin carving and eating mounds of candy collected from tick-or-treating (which probably thrills the makers of Metformin.)

 

reading-tea-leaves
Botanomancy in action

Tasseography / Tasseology
Means divination, or reading tea leaves which is derived from the French word tasse (cup), which in turn comes from the Arabic word tassa; And the Greek suffix (graph/ology) which means writing/study of.

Fortune telling is as old as the hills and reading tea leaves can be traced to seventeenth century Western medieval Europe after Dutch merchants returned from China and introduced tea to Europe.

Botanomancy (+ Witches)
Means herb divination. And, according to the Pagan Library, a Witch (derived from the Old English word wicca) “…was a seer, a knower, an averter of evil. The word only took on a negative meaning with the coming of Christianity, which taught that all the gods of the heathen were devils. So anyone who clung to the old ways and the Old Religion was a devil worshipper.”

Witches were/are particularly skilled at both Tasseography and Botanomancy (herb divination). Most will tell you they have and cultivate herb gardens (which inspires them to make magic), and certainly to practice the ancient art of tea leaf reading.

Here are some simple steps to take should you want to try tea leaf reading:

  1. The right teapot is important. Choose one that calls to you and designate that your magical pot. Intention is everything.
  2. Next, choose loose-leaf tea leaves (any!) and put them into the pot, add hot water (at the right temperature).
  3. Turn the teapot once to the right and then twice to the left.
  4. Steep to the appropriate time, then pour the tea into a teacup. Sip and enjoy.
  5. Once finished, swirl the cup clockwise, then turn the teacup upside down on the saucer.
  6. Examine the leaves and the shapes it has created.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reading tea leaves there are many books, and really cool images on Pinterest about Tasseography, but here is a quick glance at some of the meanings:

witches-tea
French Witches enjoying a cuppa

• Heart shape: romance
• Two hearts:
marriage
• Sword or dagger shape:
take care of your health
• Moon shape:
change is coming
Snake shape: deception/a strong warning to be careful of someone around you
• Bird: a journey is on the horizon
• Cat:
someone who is not being honest with you
• Dog:
spending time with close friend
Dot shapes: money is coming
• Star (or horseshoe):
  great luck
• Triangle:
extremely fortuitous/expect great success

Spilled tea is good luck
Very strong tea suggests that a new friend is on the horizon
Top is left off the teapot accidentally it suggests a stranger around you
It’s Bad luck for more than one person to pour from a pot of tea
Bubbles on top of teacup – financial luck
Bubbles near the side of teacup – expect romance
Sprinkle tea leaves around the house for luck and protection!
• Never throw tea leaves away, always share them with your garden: especially roses!

Last but not least: just enjoy that pot of tea!

Happy Samhain!
Happy Hallows Eve!
Happy Halloween!
Happy All Saints Day!

Happy Sipping!

 

~The Chief Leaf

Samhain, Tasseography + Botanomancy

Pumpkin Pressure?

Kettle in the form a pumpkin on background of burlap
Pumpkin Teapot

I gave in. It took 10 years, but I finally caved. Pearl Fine Teas now offers a Pumpkin Flavored Tea. Don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkins. I put a few on my front porch every year (I prefer the really ugly ones) and I love pumpkin seeds. I even like (on occasion) roasted pumpkin, but I have never taken to pumpkin flavored foods or drinks. Not my cup of tea so to speak.

So what happened? I blame Linus Van Pelt.  His love and passion for that squash has stayed with me since the first time watching in as a kid. I love the name, hence the blend. And we now have a very limited quantity of our very own Great Pumpkin Tea Blend.

GreatPumpkin
Linus

It’s technically a tisane (herbal) because the base in Rooibos. If you follow this blog regularly then you already know about Rooibos and its mega health benefits including but not limited to the fact that its 100% Caffeine Free. So its totally safe for kids and anyone else who needs to stay clear of caffeine. The blend combines a mixture of warming spices including cinnamon which adds a touch of sweetness to it naturally. We tested it out at our Sunday Farmers Market in Bethesda, and those to tasted a sample, love it!

If you are on the pumpkin train, love all things pumpkin and want to try a healthy, low calorie, no sugar drink: The G21764954_10154931976793015_5255868319009802685_n-1reat Pumpkin is for you. You can have a look and purchase on our website under Seasonal + Specials. I’m offering a 10% off discount to anyone reading and subscribed to this blog. Just enter GP10 at checkout. There is a very limited supply and once it’s gone, we won’t be bringing out until… next year?

I  think everyone should drink a cuppa Great Pumpkin Tea while watching the Great Pumpkin rise from the patch this year when it airs on TV.

Happy Fall! Happy Sipping!

~ The Chief Leaf

 

 

 

Pumpkin Pressure?