Thank you for joining me here today. So much going on in this busy Autumn/Winter season. The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are rapidly diminishing.
Advent is here, it is a time for many Christians to hunker down in the colder darker days of winter, to let the world slide by and giving one time to reflect upon life, its blessings, and to wait ... wait for the Son as we light a candle for the four weeks of advent.
So too during the ancient Hebrew holiday of Hanukkah, God's people light a candle against the darkness in quiet reflection, and joyful thanksgiving in remembrance of the oil lamp that stayed lit in the temple when no one could come to trim its wick or add oil.
The more recent holiday of Kwanzaa uses some of the same images of bringing light, love and thanksgiving into the dark days of winter.
Man has always had some kind of celebration to light up the dark days of winter, to enjoy the bounty of the summer, and to spend time with dear ones.
It is not uncommon for these days of December to be a time of anxious waiting, and a hurried sense of getting everything done before the days slide all too fast into our special holiday celebrations. For some children, they await the magical visit of Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Svaty Mikolaus or Santa Claus. For others they await the Christ Child, or the enlightenment and joy of time spent in reflection, celebration and with friends and family. For the more modern and opportunistic folks these holidays are about the gifts we get and receive.
For me, I was fortunate to grow up in a mixed European home, each parent offering their traditions on how to celebrate. Yet as I grew older and wiser, I saw too the stress and strain of my parents trying to keep to traditions, to buy foods that were usually too expensive at other times, making parties and feasts of grand proportion with neighbors and family. Yet for us most of the year we were a quiet inclusive little family.
Some traditions from other cultures have leached their way into our modern holidays, much of it from the Victorian Era, and many from the passage of immigrants to our American shores.
As a wife of a man from another mix of cultures, Christmas was special for me, especially to have dear family around me. It was important for me to make small but delicious meals, being the hostess offering succor, cheer and goodwill to our small family. So I offer to them each year something memorable, a different menu usually from another country, something unusual and decidedly delicious.
For Christmas Eve in my childhood home, it was nearly like celebrating Hanukkah, lights out, candles to be lit on the table, prayers said, the breaking of a thin wafer bread drizzled with honey, and the bitter sour tastes of sauerkraut soup followed by the plain taste of potato crepes, very much like the Scandinavians' Leftsa. Then we each had a cookie and off to church, where most of us performed in choirs or muscial endeavors.
Taking some of those ideas and broadening them, Christmas Eve in my new home has been one of a simple supper for the travelers and guests offering good bread, and a soup or stew. In years past it might have been the zingy Mexican tortilla soup or chicken posole for my new Hispanic family, or French (another family tradition) boeuf bourgignone, Italian Minestrone or chicken sausage pasta soup, other times New England clam chowder or shrimp Gumbo, each year something different. For me, sometimes I held to my tradition of my sauerkraut soup, while others dined on another soup.
New traditions sometimes fall flat, people recalling a taste or maybe the emotions of the day mixed with the food, often wanting the same thing. Yet as a new wife over the years (and it has been twenty Christmases), I have enjoyed the cooking of the days, the preparation and joy of making food for my new family. Yet Christmas is not about the food, but the times we spend together, and the blending of traditions new or old.
So I await in this season of anticipation, a silent joy in my heart yet a throb of regret for the days gone by, for this year we begin a new tradition. My beloved but aging and tired in-laws will hold Christmas at their home, something they have not done in many years since they always came to us. So my husband and I will go, excited yet I know feeling unsure as to how it will all come together. I will make some food and bring it, but it will not feel the same. Yet as we are all growing older, the fuss of the holidays becomes less important than just the time we spend together.
Let that be your guide, it is not what is on the plate or cooking on the stove or in the cookie tin, or the gifts under the tree or stocking, but what you hold in your heart, mind and soul, that you make this year's holiday one to remember with friendship, goodness, charity, and most of all--LOVE.