I was talking with a dear friend, Fr. Johnny Go, director of the Ateneo de Manila University Institute for the Science and Art of Learning and Teaching.
Holding back on delicious food like lechon and other stuff, including wine? A question he gets a lot these days is, “How do we feast without guilt?”
Shouldn’t people feel bad about a lavish Christmas banquet, especially with many people having so little?
First, Fr. Johnny pointed out: “There is nothing wrong with feasting.
“Our Lord saw no reason for not feasting with his friends (the Wedding at Cana, for example)
—but he certainly got flak for it!
“His enemies famously compared him to his more ascetic cousin, John the Baptist, who ‘came neither eating nor drinking’ and dismissed Jesus by saying, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard!’ (Matthew 11:18).
“Of course what the Pharisees and scribes were really unhappy about is that his friends included ‘tax collectors and sinners’ (Luke 5:30).
“So this tells us that there’s nothing wrong with feasting per se because our Lord himself engaged in feasting.”
Shared his meal
But what made our Lord’s feasting truly special, Father Johnny said, is that he shared his meal and his time with the people that society rejected. What will make our Christmas meal truly meaningful is not the menu, but our sharing it with others.
“What defines a Christmas meal is the company of those we love, our families and our friends,” he said. “What would truly spread the Christmas spirit is if we’re able to share what we have with those who have little or nothing.”
How is God present when there’s barely anything, for many, on noche buena?
“God is present not because of what we have, but because of who we are and who we are with,” said Fr. Johnny. “Even if we have little, God is there as long as we are doing what God does: sharing and loving.”
How do we nourish our souls as we celebrate the birth of the Lord?
There are different sources of spiritual nourishment, such as the Simbang Gabi, but for me, the best is personal prayer and action, making sure to carve out time to be with the Lord by yourself and doing something good for others.
And what’s Father Johnny’s idea of a biblical Christmas menu?
“The only thing that comes to mind,” he said, “is the special Christmas bread that my baker friend Gretchen Consunji-Lim shared with me just the other day. It’s called a Christstollen or Christmas stollen. It’s bread with a filling of marzipan.
“The strange thing, though, is that the marzipan filling is deliberately off-center, and the reason is that it represents the Baby Jesus, while the bread stands for the swaddling cloth that wraps the infant. The dough is wrapped around the marzipan filling in the same manner that the cloth swaddled the infant Jesus.
“You will recall that it’s the sign that the angels gave the shepherds that first Christmas night (Luke 2:12). You can’t possibly get more biblical than that!”
Father Johnny added that there is no prescription to serve this special Christmas bread
—for as long as what we eat and how we eat bring about the Christmas spirit, then we’re doing fine.
“Anything you and your loved ones choose to feast on this Christmas will be just fine as long as you remember the true message of Christmas—God sharing what He has in excess with those who lack it and most need it: His love.”
Here’s a Christmas stollen recipe shared by master baker Johnlu Koa of Lartizan and French Baker. The stollen, Koa said, is a Christmas pastry that originated in Germany and is baked only once a year to commemorate the birth of Christ wrapped in swaddling clothes.
This is a very rich dough with high amounts of butter, sugar and rum-soaked glazed fruit peels. It tastes like traditional fruit cake and Italian panettone.
There are two ways of shaping it. One is like a log, where the center or the dough is indented with a rolling pin and then piped with a strip or almond filling. To secure it, the other half of the dough is turned over to keep the filling in place. After baking, it is brushed with a coating of melted butter and dredged in sugar.
The other way of shaping it is to do a cheval or a horseshoe- shaped dough.
Koa said it is before New Year’s Day that cheval stollen is sold in Lartizan because many believe that the U-shaped pastry brings good luck for the family.
1,120 g bread flour
490 g water
10 g yeast
16 g salt
80 g sugar
3 pc whole eggs
80 g butter
120 g almond flakes
120 g glazed fruits
120 g golden raisins
60 g rum
1 pc zest of lemon
Marzipan for centers
1) Soak raisins, almond flakes and glazed fruits in rum overnight.
2) In a mixer, combine water, eggs and dry ingredients. Mix until well combined.
3) Add the butter, soaked dried fruits and zest of lemon. Mix to incorporate.
4) After mixing, rest the dough for 30 minutes.
5) Divide dough to 200 g (refer to photo).
6) Rest for 20 minutes.
7) Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough and pipe ample amounts of marzipan (40 g) based on photo.
8) Proof for 1.5-2 hours; brush with egg wash and sprinkle almond flakes on top before baking.
9) Bake at 180°C until desired color is achieved, approximately 15-20 minutes if shaped like Lartizan.
10) Sprinkle with powdered sugar.