Maggie's Minute: A Colorado Humanities Update, Dec. 20

Figgy pudding!

Christmas traditions that hearken back centuries can bring us a sense of delight and whimsy, even if we're not sure exactly what they mean. We gaily sing of wassail, figgy pudding and the Feast of Stephen each year, but do we understand why?

An ancient English tradition of singing and drinking to bestow good health on apple trees, wassailing, led by the season's "King" and "Queen," caroused from orchard to orchard to ensure a good crop of cider in the following year. Wassail and wassail! In Middle English, waes hail referred to the merry trail, the hot mulled cider drunk en route, and the toast, itself, of health and good fortune. As for figgy pudding, it's really more of a steamed cake than pudding, traditionally a domed affair drizzled with sweet sauce and set aflame for presentation. The recipe includes many rich and delicious things in addition to figs and a healthy dose of brandy, cognac or rum to feed the fire. Figgy pudding, banned by English Puritans in the mid-1600s, isn't easy to find and takes a long time to make. What is easy to find is its modern cousin, the fruitcake. (Some people today would like to ban the fruitcake.) Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen, as we know. A mid-winter holy day relating to St. Stephen, the feast is recognized variously in countries around the world, but not universally understood. In Walt Kelley's Okefenokee Swamp, for instance, the beloved cartoon 'possum, Pogo, listened to a tale sung of Good King Sauerkraut who looked on his "feets uneven" while the "snoo" was "all kerchoo achievin'."

A few more December highlights: We enjoyed celebrations for authors and students in our Writers in the Schools program at schools in Boulder, Denver and Grand Junction, when we presented students with anthologies of their work.

A reception at the Governor's Residence honored 10 teacher-authors of our Great Lives in Colorado History biographies. Guests, honorees and other dignitaries chatted and dipped into an array of goodies to the accompaniment of a string ensemble. Our 2012 Teacher Institute will produce 17 more biographies, to be released in 2013, with History Colorado helping to select biography subjects.

In 2007, we helped fund a Pikes Peak Library District symposium that resulted in the publication of Extraordinary Women of the Rocky Mountain West. We've just learned the book, which examines the ways western women helped shape our country and the lasting effects of their contributions, is a Willa Literary Award finalist this year.

Colorado Gives Day saw lots of support from our family of humanities enthusiasts - many, many thanks to everyone who donated. And, thank you, too, for joining our Humanities Pop Quiz!

By the way, our new Microsoft Tag appears on the Colorado Gives Day save-the-date postcard we mailed last month. Hold onto the card and scan the tag now and then with your smart phone, see what happens.

Looking ahead to 2012: Next month, the Historic Lecture Series will resume on Jan. 8 - at the Tattered Cover in Denver, and in Morrison at The Fort restaurant - with a lecture and slide show by Denver Posse member and researcher Ann Lee Ames Frohlich. Her presentation, "The Lonely Pyramid on Sherman Hill," is a history of the 60-ft. Ames Monument in what was once Sherman, Wyo.

Back to the subject of fruitcake. Fruitcake cookies might move a little faster off the shelf than the much-maligned fruitcake. However, if you live near the Garden of the Gods, you doubtless know that receiving a dense, sticky and bejeweled loaf of mystery ingredients doesn't worry anyone, except for perhaps the Society for the Protection and Preservation of Fruitcake, should it ever get wind of this: though not rivaling Delaware and its extravagant October "Pumpkin Chunkin,'" Colorado can nevertheless stand tall in the field for its annual "Fruitcake Toss" in Manitou Springs, where virtues of the yule-tide dessert are considered to be a fine combination of weight, balance, resiliency and aerodynamics.

Here's to you! May the rest of this year and the years to come bring you great luck, joy and the gift of a generous life!

Maggie Coval

Executive Director

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