When I am done writing this column, I will head down to my kitchen and finish my traditional Irish Christmas cake. As Irish women have done for generations, I began in mid-November, because an Irish Christmas cake is a Project.

First, you stir together a massive bowl full of fruit — fresh, dried and candied — along with nuts, flour, a special British sugar syrup called Lyle’s Golden, and a bit of whiskey. This is baked for hours, after which you wrap it carefully in paper and foil and stuff it in a cupboard, taking it out only once a week to “feed” it whiskey. Believe it or not, the cake seems to like this treatment; it emerges moist, rich and delectable.

But not until Christmas, when the cake dons its gay apparel: a last coating of whiskey, one of apricot jam and then an overcoat of marzipan. Once all this is topped with a decorative layer of royal icing, there’s really nothing more Irish, or traditional. Though, depending on the time frame you choose, there’s really nothing less Irish or traditional, either.

For starters, the Irish cake bears a suspicious resemblance to other British Christmas cakes, so it’s likely a legacy of colonialism. And it is difficult not to notice that most of the ingredients aren’t exactly native to the island, either.

For example, Lyle’s Golden Syrup was invented by a British sugar refiner in the 1880s, out of sugar cane, native to Asia and likely grown in the Americas. The spices we think of as “Christmas spices” (in America, also Thanksgiving spices) were unknown to European Christians until the Middle Ages. Cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka, and nutmeg and clove to Indonesia, though by the medieval era, trade and migration had already spread them to the Middle East, whence returning Crusaders brought them to Europe. After 1500, Europeans could also add allspice, which hails from the Caribbean.

The candied fruit in my fruitcake mix never grew on the cool and windy hills of Ireland; it’s largely composed of citrus peel that has to be imported from warmer climes — as probably were the almonds, though it’s theoretically possible to grow them in Ireland. The currants hail from Greece, raisins from somewhere Mediterranean-ish (or, more lately, California). Marzipan probably originated in Persia.

These became the staples of Christmas precisely because they were foreign — and therefore, rare and expensive. People hoarded them to celebrate the birth of Christ, the second-most joyous day of the Christian calendar.

But even what must have seemed like more ordinary ingredients were actually imports, with the possible exception of the cherry. Wheat came out of the Fertile Crescent sometime after 8000 B.C., and arrived in the British Isles through some combination of trade and migration around 6000 B.C., when a wave of Middle Eastern farmers arrived to settle among the region’s original dark-skinned, blue-eyed, hunter-gathering inhabitants. The apricot got its start in the Himalayas, and appears to have come to Europe through Armenia. Even the native whiskey, an Irish invention, wasn’t possible until the secrets of distilling came to Ireland from the continent via monks.

We pause to note, too, that this very Irish sweet is being made by one of their descendants 3,000 miles from County Armagh — a descendant who is only three-quarters Irish, with the rest mostly Puritan. And that this is, in fact, the first year she’s ever made this cake, having been passed the recipe by a (non-Irish) schoolmate who resides in Cork, Ireland.

You can view this as an extremely authentic or pathetically artificial embrace of lost roots. But I’d rather think of it as a celebration of all the modern innovations that don’t just make it possible for us to see the world, but to dive more deeply into our own little pieces of it: the social media site that kept me in touch with my classmate, the trade agreements and innovations in container shipping that made it so cheap and easy to experiment with all those ingredients, the thermostat-controlled oven that made the baking a snap, the helpful videos I expect to guide me as I roll out my marzipan.

Which seems the perfect way to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child, who told us that He came to be a light not just to one people, but to all the nations. I like to think that He would be pleased to know how many of those nations it took to make Him just one very Irish birthday cake.

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