Dec 172017

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday. For some inexplicable reason (early onset Alzheimer’s maybe?) I left out Gaudete Sunday last year when I was “unpacking” Christmas, so let me rectify that omission now. On the third Sunday in Advent we light the third candle on the Advent wreath: the candle of peace. On standard Western wreaths the third candle is pink or rose colored in contrast with the other three which are either violet or purple, and in traditions where clerical vestments are normal, rose is the preferred color of the day. You may also adorn the church with rose-colored articles. In the eastern Orthodox church, and some western European countries the candles on the wreath are all red, as is mine this year (lead photo). I haven’t changed denominations, I just can’t find violet or rose candles in Phnom Penh, but red ones are abundant.

The name “Gaudete” comes from the day’s introit in the Latin Mass of the day:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.

(Philippians 4:4)

This introit carol was made popular by Steeleye Span in the 1970s, but I prefer it in a clerical setting.

One year on this Sunday, when I was pastor at Livingston Manor, I had the choir process into church singing the chorus parts while I sang the solo from the gallery: very joyous (but not really traditional). The organist balked because I gave her my transcription from a medieval MS, as is – no measure lines.  She was flummoxed, and solved the problem by marking them in. Oh dear! Classically trained musicians can be a pain.

Conventionally in Western liturgical traditions, confession and penance are suspended for Gaudete Sunday because it should be a day of unalloyed rejoicing. Forget about your past wrongdoing, and focus on the good things in your life. I’m always happy when I am cooking.

Here is a recipe for an Advent cake created by Jamie Oliver, which I have modified for Gaudete Sunday. Fruit cakes decorated with marzipan are the taste of Christmas for me. My two photos here give two different ideas.  Either color all the marzipan rose, or leave most of the marzipan natural colored and decorate with pink roses of marzipan. In the latter case you will need extra marzipan.

Advent Fig Cake


For the cake

225g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp mixed spice (cloves, nutmeg, allspice)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
200g butter
200g dark brown sugar
2 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp orange marmalade
¼ tsp vanilla essence
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
800g dried figs, roughly chopped
100g mixed peel, chopped
150g glace cherries, halved
100g blanched almonds, chopped
250ml brandy

To decorate

200g marzipan plus extra for additional decorations.
1-2 tbsp orange marmalade, warmed
food coloring


Soak the chopped dried figs, chopped mixed peel and glace cherries in 250ml brandy at least overnight, and preferably longer. I have soaked them for a month with good effect.

Heat the oven to 150C/300F Grease an 18cm/7inch square cake tin and line the bottom and sides with baking parchment.

Sieve the flour, salt, mixed spice and cinnamon into a bowl.

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and then mix in the treacle, marmalade and vanilla essence until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, a little at a time, and add a tablespoon of the flour mixture at the end.

Fold in the remaining flour mixture, don’t use beaters, until well mixed and then mix in the dried fig, mixed peel, glace cherries and the chopped almonds.

Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and make a slight hollow in the center.

Bake in the oven for 3 hours and then test with a toothpick. If it is not yet cooked through (there is dough sticking to the toothpick), continue baking, testing every 20 minutes until the toothpick comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. Then turn out on to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Place the cooled cake on a cake plate.

Dust your hands with icing sugar and knead the marzipan. Add a little red food coloring to make it pink, and continue kneading until the marzipan is soft and the color is evenly distributed (if you are making a pink cake). If you are making a plain cake with decorations, knead the extra marzipan with coloring and knead the bulk of it without.

Roll out half the marzipan to fit the top of the cake and roll out the rest in strips to fit around the sides of the cake.

Brush the cake all over with the warmed orange marmalade and then place the marzipan on top and around the cake. Decorate as you see fit.

Cover the cake with a clean tea towel and then leave in a cool place for at least one day.






Dec 112016


Today is the third Sunday in Advent, commonly called Gaudete Sunday. The day takes its  name from the first word of the introit of this day’s Mass:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

[Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.] (Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84):1)


One of the candles surrounding the Christ Candle in the Advent wreath is rose colored, for Gaudete Sunday (Joy Sunday). Likewise, in churches that worry about such things, priests have the option to wear rose vestments instead of the normal violet or blue for the Advent season. Being a reasonably ardent Protestant pastor (with cynical edges), I don’t care about vestments at all. But colors matter in some ways. My congregations liked to have different colors on the pulpit for different seasons in accord with Presbyterian rules for worship, and I went along. Purple is the Advent color, and I always had a candle-lighting ceremony at the Advent wreath (which I wrote myself and had various families carry out) at the beginning of each Sunday service. It was a nice ritual touch.


The lectionary readings for Gaudete Sunday deal with Christian joy as well as the mission of St. John the Baptist and his connexion with Advent. In my oh-so-humble opinion the John the Baptist bit is spurious – an attempt by the gospel writers to bring two disparate communities of disciples together. The focus on joy is another matter. Theologians have spilt considerable ink discussing joy, and its radical difference from happiness. You might want to read Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis to get a feel for the issue. I have very little time for Lewis’s general Christian apologetics which seem lame, to me, at best. But this book is different. It really does wrestle with the idea of JOY as a product of spiritual awakening, which Lewis quite evidently experienced personally. Oddly, the book is not about his meeting with the love of his life, Joy Davidman; it was written before they met. Her name is just a pleasant coda to the narrative. The title comes from Wordsworth:

Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport — Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?

Joy is an elusive emotion, rather different from happiness. It resides on another plane of experience, and cannot be described. You either know it or you don’t. It’s also alarmingly transient.

The word Gaudete is now inextricably linked with the carol of the same name that was popularized by Steeleye Span in the 1970s. That’s how I first ran into it, but then some years later when I was doing research on early church music I discovered that Steeleye had changed the music considerably from the 16th century original. Here’s a halfway decent attempt at recreating the original:

The harmonies for the refrain part are modern, but the verses are in unison, as would have been normal, with no measures marked by bar lines, just notes. I gave the original notation to my church organist when I was devising a Christmas concert, and she had to draw bar lines in for guidance, even though they are unnecessary.

I’ve just fed my puddings with brandy for the third successive Sunday. They’re coming along nicely – redolent of brandy and spices, with the bags they are in getting messier by the week as the brandy they are soaking in gets dark and syrupy. Now I must focus on a suitable dinner for Joy Sunday.

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I had no idea what to make, so I went out to the market to get some ideas. By chance I found a piece of meat called “reale di vitello” which is obviously veal, but I had no idea what cut. A lot of digging eventually uncovered the fact that “reale,” which can mean “real” or “royal,” is a cut of veal similar to chuck in beef. So I treated it the same way with slow braising. To make it suitable for Christmas I used a braising stock laced with allspice and ginger. For accompaniment I made lentils with the usual additions – mushrooms and leeks – but I added sultanas, as well as some allspice, ginger, and hot pepper. It’s just a spur of the moment thing, but may give you some ideas.