December 4th is the Feast Day of St. Barbara, who is the patron saint of miners, artillery men, and anyone using explosives in their job. Barbara was a martyr, said to have lived in Lebanon in the 3rd century. She confessed to her father, a rich pagan, that she had become a Chrisitian, and he had her tortured and beheaded. The legend goes that her father was immediately struck by lightning and killed. I know, I know, it’s all a very violent story for the Christmas season.
In Germany, this day is called Barbaratag, and a custom of putting a cherry branch or kirshzweig in water is practiced in Bavaria. If it blooms by December 25, then this means good luck for the year. In the Bavarian region of Germany, where this is a custom, they also have a Christmas decoration, which is a candle holder in the form of a traditional miner in his uniform, with plumed hat. The typical greeting of a miner in Germany is “Gluck Auf!” or good luck, which is sometimes inscribed on these candles. Many of these candles can be found on Catholic altars in Bavaria.
In Tyrol, Southern Austria, Catholics make kletzenbrot, a sort of fruitcake made predominantly of dried pears, but with the additions of raisins, dates, and other dried fruits, along with hazelnuts and rum or brandy. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a black forest cake, which includes cherries and sometimes kirsch or cherry liqueur.
However, it’s the Eastern Orthodox countries of the Mediterranean who have the food of this holiday. In Georgia, Saint Barbara’s Day is celebrated with a traditional festive food called lobiani, a bread baked with a bean stuffing.
A lobiani bread.
In Greece, the day is celebrated by the Artillery Corps of the Greek Army and the Cypriot National Guard at their camps, where the traditional Greek pastry, loukoumades – the honey drenched deep fried dough puff – is passed out, because they resemble cannonballs.
St. Barbara is also the patron saint of the town of Drama, in Northern Greece, where a sweet called varvara, which is a pudding of boiled cracked wheat, berries, nuts and cream, is served to celebrate the day.
The Varvara dish of Drama, Greece.
In Arab Christian communities in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, the day is called Eid-il-Barbar and is celebrated with a dish called Burbura, a healthy bowl of boiled barley, pomegranate seeds, raisings, anise, sugar, and walnuts or almonds.
Now in American artillery units, an old Civil War Artillery Punch of the following recipe is drunk at St. Barbara Balls:
St Barbara’s Artillery Punch.
Some of previous year’s punch – to represent Tradition
Red fruit drink – to represent Artillery Color
Dark Red Wine – to represent Bloodshed
Dark Rum – to represent Coming of the Storm
Golden Rum – to represent Hope of Victory
Peach Brandy – to represent “Procurement” From Officer’s Stores
Molasses – to represent Axle Grease
Spring Water – to represent Importance of Fresh Water
Bourbon – to represent the Southern Gentleman’s drink
Mixture of Lemon Juice and Brown Sugar – Squeezings from the Sponge
Lime Juice and Sliced Fruits – To Ward Off Scurvy
Dark Apple Cider – to represent Cleaning Water From the Guns
Rose Petals – to represent Sweethearts
Hardtack, Coffee, and Corn – Rations of the Common Soldier
Brown Sugar Mixed with Water – to represent Mud From the Battlefields
Black Licorice Cake Decoration – to represent Gun Powder
Horseshoe – Honors the Horses
Chocolate-covered Cherries – to represent Cannister Shot
Sock with Powdered Sugar – to represent Dust from Marching
Another interesting story surrounding St. Barbara’s Day is that the name barbiturate – the family of pharmaceutical drugs – is said to be derived from the suggestion of an artilleryman commemorating the feast of St. Barbara in Germany in 1864, where chemist Adolph von Bayer encountered at a local tavern, celebrating his recent discovery that day.