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THE human spirit has never been able to tolerate the winter of the world without a rebellious spasm of light and fire: twinkling candles, bonfires, burning logs and glittery trees to set the night ablaze and frighten off the dark beyond the campfire. Hannukah, The Chinese New Year, and (a little earlier in the year) Diwali all feature fire, light and in the case of Chinese New Year, firecrackers and fireworks.
From flame we progress naturally to feast — Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Burns Night. Roasts, spits, bubbling cauldrons; instant poptarts, pinging microwaves; butter and potatoes always the same, hot and dripping down the centuries. These winter banquets are celebrations of celebration itself.
Without fire, the physical burden of surviving on cold plants and blue meat would have denied us our humanity. Instead of evolving large, capacious skulls to house our large, beautiful brains, we would have had large, capacious guts and a mouthful of outsize fangs and grinders. We are exactly the right size to make the exercise of lighting a small fire worth the trouble, in terms of calories expended and heat generated. This is no happy coincidence; it is why we are as we are. The ability to cook has shaped our brains and bodies. Likewise, celebration feasts — something of which no animal has any concept — are a unique expression of humanity.
(Should you ever feel a pang of guilt at taking one more spud, just tell yourself that self-indulgence is the flip side of noble self-awareness.)
If Christmas Day doesn’t quite pan out right — and judging from the rest of 2016, if all we suffer this festive period is a few powercuts, we should all be mightily grateful — then, as Dylan Thomas put it, ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ Ignite the candles, open the wine and invite the neighbours round to pool resources. Advanced cooks might consider getting out the barbecue. Either way, shed light on the problem — literally — and you’ll be carrying on tradition just as much as ever; and a tradition that has been around for an awful lot longer than that of roasting large North American poultry.
Good luck, everyone — !
This article was adapted from one originally published in the Winter 2014 edition of The Taster. Click HERE for more articles