One of the best things about this time of year is eating mince pies. For those visitors from other lands, the mince pie is a British Christmas tradition. The best are home-made: a small shallow disc of pastry, filled with sweet mincemeat (a concoction of dried fruits and spices – and at one time, though no longer, minced beef), and topped with a five-pointed glazed pastry star.
In this form, the mince pie represents the nativity:
the pastry disc represents the manger (most likely a bowl-like depression ground-out of the stone floor of the home);
the mincemeat filling represents the straw;
and the star represents the baby Jesus (the five-points represent head and limbs; and by using a star rather than a ‘baby’ shape, represents Jesus as the Bright Morning Star that signals the coming breaking of the dawn).
The mincemeat needs to be visible between the points of the star – the straw the baby nestles in. Totally encased mince pies are plain wrong.
We love eating mince pies in our house; and we love helping to make them – rolling and cutting out the pastry, spooning on the mincemeat, brushing on the glaze – though only Jo is competent at making the pastry.
However, the mince pie has been contentious among differing Christian communities and traditions in British history. Indeed, the mince pie was banned by Puritan parliamentarians during the so-called English Civil War (at least three consecutive conflicts, involving England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) for being a Catholic corruption of true faith. It symbolises the repression of one group by another, on the basis of a particular set of beliefs – the persecution being all the more poignant given that those who claimed to worship the Prince of Peace were opposing one another.
And so the mince pie represents our own prejudices: those places where we espouse a dogma of division over a recipe of reconciliation.
Make room for Jesus by allowing him to confront our confident certainties with his child-like innocence and wonder; by embracing humility; by redeeming a troubled history, to point to a restored future;
by bringing together the sharp and the sweet – suet, apple, raisin, sultana, currant, candied peel, soft dark brown sugar, orange, lemon, almond, cinnamon, nutmeg, brandy – to create something truly celebratory.
Advent: making room for Jesus – in special food.