23 December 2009

Christmas treat!

In one of my recent posts, "Navidad de Nuevo", I listed some phrases that are sung back and forth among the participants of a traditional posada after the "peregrinos" (Mary and Joseph) are admitted and the rosary is said and the litany is sung. Four of the lines mention a "canasta" (basket) of some sort and I would like to explain a bit more about these canastas. Back in the year 1587 there was a priest named Fray Diego de Soria, who was the rector of a monastery called San Augustín de Alcoman (just to the northeast Mexico City). He asked permission to celebrate a mass called the "Misa de Aguinaldos" (Mass of Gifts) each day from December 16th to December 24th. In this mass there would be passages related to the story of the nativity and in order to draw the people to the mass the priests would include entertainment in the form of fireworks and songs and little gifts in the form of sweets which were sweetened seed-cakes of amaranth or in Spanish "amaranto". These sweets are still around today and are called "Dulce de Alegria" or "Candy of Joy". Little baskets or bags of sweets in the form of candy are still given to children at Posadas de Navidad and they are called canastas or bolsas de "aguinaldo" and the same word "aguinaldo" is also used for the end of the year bonus pay that is traditionally given to workers just before Christmas. (Note: I should also add that there is a flower in Mexico called "Aguinaldo Blanco" , Convolvulus nodiflorus, that looks like a white morning glory.)

The first of the four posada chant lines that I referred to above mentions both "canasta" and "colación":

Ándale Lalo, sal del rincón con la canasta de colación.
Hurry up Lalo, come out of the corner with the basket of sweets.

The word "colación" (koh-lah-SEEOHN) can mean several things. It can mean a convocation of religious monks or it can refer to an ancient legal term pertaining to the rights of inheritance. It can mean an "aperitif" (appetizer) or it can also mean "sweetmeats" given to servants on Christmas Eve. In Mexico it usually means "treats" that are generally little pieces of hard sugar candy. They come in a variety of shapes and colors and sizes. When sugar syrup is heated it passes through various stages or taste and texture and can be made into different types of candies depending upon the highest temperature that is reached. The temperature range is from about 235 degrees Fahrenheit up to about 350 degrees. In the old days people didn't have thermometers so they judged the candy by heating the syrup and then dropping a spoonful into cold water and judging by the form it took as to whether or not it had reached the right temperature. Then they added flavors like "hinojo" (fennel), "hierbabuena" (peppermint), and "anis" (anise). They also colored the candy by adding vegetable dyes and they might put nuts like peanuts or almonds at the center. There are about three hundred different examples of Mexican hard candies in the historical records. Many of them were invented and produced by nuns in the convent kitchens.

Here are three additional lines in the posada chant that mention baskets:

Quiero mi canasta de papel de china, si no me la das me voy a la esquina.
I want my tissue paper basket; if you don't give it to me I will go out to the street corner.

Quiero mi canasta de papel estraza, si me no la das me voy a mi casa.
I want my (white) butcher paper basket; if you don't give it to me I am going home.

Quiero mi canasta de papel crepe, si no me la das me voy con José.
I want my crepe paper basket; if you don't give it to me I am going over to José's house.

In the photos below you can see some examples of "colación" and also an example of an aguinaldo basket in the form of crepe paper.

¡ Feliz Navidad !


6 comments:

glorv1 said...

Hi Bob. Just stopped by to wish you and Gina a very
MERRY CHRISTMAS and also a
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Have a great one! (that candy looks good. gotta go, take care)

Bob Mrotek said...

Hi Gloria,

¡Feliz Navidad! Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year. Please give my regards to your wonderful hard working spouse and tell him to take a break and relax for awhile :)

Brenda said...

Merry Christmas and a very happy new year.

Bob Mrotek said...

"Iguanasranas", Brenda..."the same to you". I hope you have a good one :)

YayaOrchid said...

Bob, I had not seen those candies in ages! Thank you for sharing those photos! Brought a smile to my face. Wishing you and your lovely family a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2010!

Generacion Googleinstein said...

Hola Bob:
Un poco tarde deseandote lo mejor de lo mejor...
Lo mejor de este año en mi lista personal fué haber encontrado tu blog.
¡Sigue así!
Saludos

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.