It’s December and the sprint to the finish has begun in earnest. The finish line being “the holidays” and the sprint involves shopping, baking, cooking, wrapping, carolling, visiting, eating, indulging, decorating, tree-trimming, menorah-lighting and navigating tricky family dynamics! Phew – that was a mouthful. Perhaps marathon would have been a better word than sprint? The holidays are a lot of work but there’s good news. It involves chocolate and lots of it.

For the little ones, this time of year might involve the traditional Advent Calendar, a countdown of sorts towards the Christian celebration of Christmas. At one time these calendars featured beautiful artwork but now, they serve mostly as a crass commercialization of the excuse to eat chocolate. Behind every door, from December 1st to 24th, there’s a tiny piece of chocolate, one that no doubt caused endless hassles for those of you that had more than one child as they would fight over the rights to eat that tiny nugget. With the wisdom of Solomon we’re sure you proclaimed that each child would take turns receiving the gift of the good stuff every morning but with cries of “It was her turn yesterday…” and “Mom…..NO FAIR….” you probably questioned both your sanity and why you ever had kids in the first place! Easier just to eat the damn chocolate before they woke up and declare the calendar defective. Then on Christmas morning, stockings full of yet more chocolate made their appearance and the kids were either comatose, cranky or cranked up higher than a kite from all the sugar. Where were you? Crying quietly into an early morning glass of cabernet, cowering in the corner behind the Christmas tree praying no one would find you.

Next up Grandma, or Nanna, Bubbe or Nonna arrived with presents and yup – more chocolate! “It’s only one day a year,” she would admonish (unless your faith tradition is Jewish in which case eight days of Hanukkah meant eight days of chocolate gold coins – or gelt – were your lot in life.) Invariably she would follow this with the standard, “they deserve a treat, it won’t hurt….” It’s at this point I might remind you that as Amintronians, aged 50+, there are those amongst you dear readers who might already, or soon will be, these same type of grandparents. It would serve you well to remember the day your own Mom allowed your son to eat so much chocolate he didn’t walk but rather – floated – a good 18 inches off the ground for three days straight. DON’T be that Granny!

The holiday season seems to have given rise, over these past 100 years or so, to an unprecedented level of marketing that sees just about anything covered in chocolate. There are Christmas trees and reindeers and Santa’s and snowmen, gold coins and chocolate-covered fruit and even cookies dipped in chocolate because apparently, a cookie wasn’t already sweet enough! There are now chocolate-covered potato chips, chocolate-covered liquorice, little chocolates with booze in them (always fun when the kids accidentally eat 2 or 12…it’s not pretty, I speak from experience) and of course, chocolate-covered fruit to ensure that even healthy stuff becomes unhealthy. In fact, there is so much of the brown stuff around that in yet more “good news” December 16th has been declared by those in the know as “Chocolate Covered Anything Day.” Need to take your blood pressure meds? Coat them in chocolate! Your A-Fib acting up? Slip a chocolate-covered almond or two in with your blood thinners. Arthritis got you feeling down? Pop a few of your anti-inflammatory pills and sip on some hot chocolate to kill any after taste. You get the idea – if you’ve got a problem, chances are there’s a good chance chocolate is the cure!

Actually, is chocolate unhealthy? Is it all bad? The ancient Aztecs routinely used chocolate for a variety of reasons, most of which had nothing to do with sweetness. In fact, Aztec chocolate wasn’t really sweet at all. Chocolate was viewed as a gift from the God of Wisdom, Quetzalcoatl.  The cocoa seeds “had so much value they were used as a form of currency.” (1) It was originally prepared only as something that one would drink and was, in some instances, viewed as an aphrodisiac. (Hey – with the kids having flown the coop maybe this is something you could put to the test!) Later, the US Army considered chocolate to be an essential component of the US military’s rations during war times. The Aztecs might have been on to something. Chocolate, in particular dark chocolate, is actually thought to have some beneficial properties including the fact that it is an anti-oxidant. A Canadian study of almost 45,000 found that those who ate two servings of chocolate per week were 46% LESS likely to die of a stroke. Dark chocolate has fibre, iron and magnesium and some studies have shown that it can even help improve blood flow thus reducing blood pressure. Of course, much of the commercial chocolate available on the market today is NOT dark chocolate and often in fact, contains very little cocoa at all so one must be a discerning consumer when it comes to using this information to justify their addiction!

It’s actually only recently (in the last century) that chocolate has become so commonplace that we find ourselves at this point in history able to name a whole day in its honour. Lower costs make chocolate accessible to the masses and it now seems some folks are prepared to cover just about anything in the stuff – either in the name of making something already good, taste even better or making something unpalatable, more palatable. That means for many of us, there’s good news and it involves chocolate. What could be better than a whole day (and an entire holiday season) devoted to just one staple food ingredient? Chocolate IS a staple, isn’t it? What will you be doing on December 16th?

Written by Sheralyn Roman

(1) various sources including Wikipedia

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