By Executive Chef John Zehnder, CEC, ACE, HGT, AAC
Legend has it that Martin Luther – back in 1500 – was returning home one early December’s eve when he was struck in awe at the sight of a snow laden evergreen shimmering and sparkling in the glow of a full moon. As Christmas approached, Luther remembered that night and brought an evergreen into his home and had his children light it with candles in celebration of Christ’s birth.
So…when did the tradition of Christmas trees begin in America? The earliest settlers in America were English Puritans. Christmas trees were not a part of their holiday festivities. Many historians believe that Christmas trees were introduced to America by the Hessian mercenary troops during the American Revolution. The British hired mercenaries to fight against the upstart American patriots. Most of these Hessian troops were forced into service and did not necessarily come willingly. About 1,000 of the toughest Hessian troops were stationed in Trenton, New Jersey just across the Delaware River from General George Washington’s tattered and nearly defeated volunteer militia. It has been recorded that General Washington’s troops could hear Hessians across the river sing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, after Washington knew the Hessians troops had spent the day celebrating, the America patriots crossed the Delaware River in pitch darkness and surprised the Hessians as they slept. Remember the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware? This was a major turning point in the Revolutionary War, giving the Americans a morale boost and it also eliminated a sizable military threat to Washington’s troops. Of the approximately 30,000 Hessians sent to fight in America about 8,000 remained in the new colonies and settled in after the war, bringing their Christmas traditions with them, including the Christmas tree.
A Personal Footnote to This Story… My mother can trace her father’s side of the family back to Prussian/Hessian heritage. Her ancestors served in the Prussian/Hessian armies during the 1700’s and early 1800’s. We have documentation that some were high ranking officers. Most joined because jobs were scarce and if you didn’t own land, the military was a good option. My cousin Fred from Milwaukee told me once that it is very possible that some of our ancestors could have served during the Revolutionary War in America. I find that interesting and intriguing!
Here’s a recipe that’s a long time holiday tradition in our family. This is my wife Janet’s peanut butter fudge recipe, all of our close friends get a nice slab of it for Christmas.
In a large pan place 2 lbs. of powdered sugar, ½ cup utter and a 13 oz. can of evaporated milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until all the ingredients melt. Continue to cook to soft ball stage, 235F on candy thermometer. Remove from heat and quickly stir in a 7 oz. jar of marshmallow cream. Next stir in 18 oz. smooth peanut butter. Pour into a 9” x 9” greased pan. Cut when cool.