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Catholic Activity: Mince Pies and Holly


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The author describes the religious significance of Holly and Mince Pies during the Advent and Christmas seasons.


One hardly thinks of things like holly and mince pies as having any religious significance. Yet they have. Churches and houses, particularly the windows of houses, were decorated the week before Christmas with ivy, bay, holly, rosemary, cypress, and any evergreen. And this, say some, as a reminder of the prophetical description of our Lord as the branch, the stem rising from the root of Jesse, the thirsty plant. Others, however, hold that it is reminiscent of the branches cut down by the Jews and strewn in front of Christ when they hailed him as the Son of David, and indeed, in many parts of the country these branches were left until Good Friday.

Mince meat, with its spices, fruit and peels, is supposed to remind one of the gifts brought from the east by the Wise Men. Be that as it may, it was for long the custom to make mince pies in the form of a manger. What is more, every boy and girl used to be given the Christmas dough, a little pastry figure representing the Christ child, a figure no doubt as crude as the gingerbread man who can still be seen, but for all that, serving some purpose of instruction. That the innocuous mince pie did help to remind people of Christ's being born in a stable and being adored by the kings is plain enough when one reads of the puritans who "inveigh against the mince pie as an invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon, an hodge-podge of superstition, popery, the devil and all his works."

In view of this sour attitude, it is not surprising to find occasional protests, like this written in 1661:

Christmas, farewell; thy days, I fear, And merry days are done. If thus they keep feasts all the year Our Savior shall have none. Gone are those golden days of yore When Christmas was a high day, Whose sports we now shall see no more; 'Tis turned into Good Friday.

Activity Source: Candle is Lighted, A by P. Stewart Craig, The Grail, Field End House, Eastcote, Middlesex, 1945

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