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J is for Jingle Bells and Juniper

Posted by on November 22, 2012

Jingle bells or sleigh bells, were often found in large numbers on the harnesses of horse carriages during the winter season. City life before cars required something you could hear from afar, which the jingling noise the bells make as the horses move would make up for hooves being muffled by the snow. This helps avoid accidents, especially as will have a hard time hearing the sledge when it is dragged through the snow and is still widely used inside the Arctic Circle today.

The strong association with winter weather and a simpler time means during Christmas time these small bells are also used in decorations, especially door wreaths. It can become quite a nuisance when doing shopping as each time you go through a door you can hear the bells. I can understand why some shop staff feel like they are going slightly crazy in the run up to Christmas. Not only do they have to deal with the noise from the bells, they will also have Christmas songs playing all day round on the stereo.

The best known Christmas song is “Jingle Bells”, originally written as a Thanksgiving song but quickly adopted for the end of year festival. It’s a relatively easy song with a catchy tune and simple lyrics. Many great music artists have recorded this song for their Christmas albums. But what most people might not know is that “Jingle Bells” was the first song ever to be broadcast from space.

Juniper

The original Christmas berries were not holly but juniper berries as these trees are commonly found in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, especially in Asia juniper is known in its smaller variety as a Bonsai tree. Across the world many cultures use the berries to flavour dishes that include rabbit, venison, veal and other wild meats.

However, the most common known use of juniper is in gin. The origins of modern gin can be traced back to the Netherlands where it started its life as jenever. Way back in the 16th century a Dutch chemist made a medicine that was based on distilled wine. As the product was quite disgusting to taste (which might mean it worked 🙂 ), juniper berries were added. Hence the name “jenever” was launched. Although the original product has not changed significantly, the purpose of the products has. It is no longer used as a medicine but as a popular strong alcoholic drink. In the Netherlands it is still known as “jenever” but across the world this clear spirit is more commonly known as “gin”.

The phrase Dutch courage is believed to be derived from the time when the English were fighting the Spanish on Dutch soil around the end of the 1500’s. The English soldiers drank some gin during their fight which had a calming effect on the person. Gin in the United Kingdom became even more popular when William of Orange took on the British throne. Since that day gin has remained incredibly popular in the United Kingdom and slowly made its way across the world through the travel and settlements of the Brits across the world.

Common mixed drinks include ‘G&T’ – gin and tonic and ‘pink gin’ gin with a dash of Angostura bitters devised in Trinidad and Tobago but bearing the name of the town in Venezuela.

During Christmas many Brits will have a gin & tonic before starting their Christmas meal, perhaps reminding them of a warm summer playing croquet on the lawn. This well travelled drink certainly remains an international favourite.

 

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