I am sure it wasn’t so, but for some reason I remember all the Easter Sundays of my childhood as sparkling and bright. The long grasses we had picked together with our dad the day before, had been turned before bedtime into fluffy nests, and we found them the following morning to have been visited by the Easter bunny who brought sweets and treats all the way from America. I remember holding hands with my sisters, skipping on the cobblestone sidewalk in front of the house, waiting for our parents to lock up so we could go to church. In my memory, all our Easter dresses were variations of pink or purple, all our Easter eggs were red, and all the hymns sung that early morning in the coolness of the church, sent shivers down my spine.
My family loved keeping to tradition the Friday before Easter, slaughtering the baby lambs we played with and loved, allowing them to silently bleed to death, then turning them into stews and roasts. To this day, none of my siblings like the taste of lamb meat. They had spent too much time chasing a little lamb friend across the yard. We remembered too clearly the horror of their silence as the blood trickled down into the damp spring earth. Children do not recognize the importance of a symbolic ritual, no matter how often they may hear the story repeated.
The family gatherings after church were the best part of Easter Sunday. Uncles and aunts and cousins and close friends, everyone dear, together. The cracking of the colored eggs, the stories told of far away places and long ago days, the silences of stories not dared voiced, the laughter, the desserts. And somehow the sun was always shining and the food was plenty, and the later it got, the greater was the sadness that the day would have to end and Monday would come, and we would miss the togetherness and the memories we had made.
Photo courtesy of hubpages.com
It’s snowing out. From my kitchen window it appears that the lawn furniture and the rose bushes are dusted with a fine coating of powdered sugar. The world is glittery and shimmery and white. I can hear the wind singing in the trees, and despite the cozy room and my hot peppermint tea, I can’t help but shiver at its mournful tune.
Thanksgiving is two days away. I love this holiday, possibly even more than I love Christmas. I love that it isn’t commercialized, and that the focus isn’t things, but family. The hours spent in the company of my loved ones are a retreat for my soul. The pleasure of being together, the savory turkey, the delectable pumpkin and pecan pies, the glow of the stories yet again retold, the moments of calm and grace in the midst of laughter, the innumerable blessings in my life… It is pure joy! And for that I am thankful.
I apologize for the poor quality of the photo. It was taken with my iPhone rather than with a good quality camera, because a good quality camera does not offer the convenience of an iPhone. Or fit in my back pocket. And also, since it was around 3:00am on Christmas morn, it’s probably a good thing that it isn’t too clear.
Christmas Eve day dawned foggy and cold. I awoke before the darkness lifted though, as I was in charge of the family lunch and the house was a mess from the previous day’s baking with my mom, sister, and husband. The kitchen was a nightmare, with pans piled on every surface!
I cooked and cleaned and washed and laundered and set the table, and before long everyone arrived, laden with goodies. We sat and ate and talked and laughed and ate and drank some more. The lunch stretched into the dinner hour. Noticing the lateness and marveling at how quickly time passes, we put a stop to all the fun and festivities and prepared ourselves for church. On Christmas Eve we always go to church.
And, oh how beautiful it was! The brass band blew away on their trombones, their tubas and their horns. The one hundred person choir performed O Holy Night and Handel’s Messiah, and it truly felt as though the angels of heaven descended on earth with their tidings of great joy. My spine was tingling and my hair stood on end, from the beauty of it all.
After church we hurried home and changed into comfortable clothing. It was time to make our rounds to the Christmas Eve parties already in session. We didn’t linger long for we wanted to be at the party where traditional carols and carolers would be. And so we went to my friend’s beautiful estate high up in the wooded hills. The food was amazing and in abundance. The company awesome! Even Santa paid a visit, handing out bonbons to the wide-eyed children. There we stayed caroling and listening to visiting carolers, eating, socializing, and telling stories until 4:30 Christmas morning.
The kids who had been playing with the other 20 or so children, fell asleep the moment we put them in the car. And we did too, just as soon as we brushed our teeth and tumbled in bed, 15 minutes later.
Christmas Day was quiet. We got up around noon, opened our presents, and had our breakfast. We read, watched movies and took long naps. The skies were beautiful and blue, sunshine streaming brightly, but we just ventured out for a little bit as the wind was quick and sharp. At night we read in front of the fire and fell asleep in a pile on the bed, the kids tucked in between us.
And so today, this second day of Christmas we celebrated some more, and tomorrow and the next we will too. The presents that most children would receive on just one day are spread out until the twelfth night (January 5th), the eve of Epiphany. On the 6th, on that Three King’s Day, we will have a special cake, wearing silver and gold (foil) crowns, searching in the richness of the cake for the King’s ring.
Then the season will conclude. Our hearts will be lighter, our spirits richer, our bodies probably fatter. But who cares? Lent isn’t too far off.
Most of what I know about life, I learned around the kitchen table. Much to the dismay and embarrassment of my teenage self, ours was a family that ate all its breakfasts and dinners together. And while our parents rarely chastened our behaviors in public, home was an altogether different territory. Not only were we repeatedly reminded by the adults to sit up straight, take small bites, thoroughly chew our food, keep our elbows off the table, and not speak with our mouths full, we liked to remind each other as well. Sometimes the younger ones made a point of it, by shoving each other. After which, they were made to stand in the kitchen corners with their arms raised, backs to the room, as a reminder that hands were not given to us for hitting or shoving.
As the years went by everything was discussed around that table our father built, from the Sunday morning sermon (with beloved Tanti Marie doing perfect impersonations of the preacher) to current fashions to whether it was necessary that I get my starter bra. My mother’s traditional upbringing guaranteed us three course meals every day – soup, main course of some type of meat with two sides, one of potatoes, or rice and the other a salad, and to finish it off, dessert. This meant that instead of the normal 45 minutes, it took us an hour and a half to get done eating.
In fact, most of my childhood was spent either eating or learning to cook what we were about to eat. The kitchen was always a hub of activity, and countless times I couldn’t go to where I wanted because no one could give me a ride as they were all busy working on the next meal, or canning, or making preserves, or pickling. Besides that, the three of us girls were needed around the table to shell the peas, or peel the potatoes, or stuff the scooped out tomatoes with whatever stuffing mixture was prepared.
Because they were younger, my sisters got out of it pretty quickly and escaped to the yard with its lemon and orange trees and their dolls and dollhouses made out of shoeboxes. I, on the other hand, had to stay. “How do you expect to get married, if you don’t know how to cook?” My mother, or Tanti Marie, or grandmother would ask. I was only twelve, yet they had a point. Getting daughters married was a goal for my mother’s generation, and I was constantly reminded of it. So I stayed and did my part, and listened to their chatter.
I learned to read expressions and sudden silences. Certain words coupled with certain looks, meant certain things. I wonder if they ever suspected how much they were giving away. Or if they cared.
While I have become a bit more modernized than my mother, and share the cooking with my hubby, I still hold sacred the ritual of eating our meals together. All the essential lessons: good manners, love of family, love of life, are learned around the family table. I hope that this is a tradition that I will pass on to my children, and they to theirs.