Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's December 23rd...

Is this morning of the eve of christmas eve? I wait all year for Christmas Eve. Yes, that’s right Christmas Eve. Christmas eve is filled with so much tradition in our family--almost more than Christmas day. A big family dinner is part of this tradition. My grandparents were Lutherans from Czechoslavakia and many of these traditions and recipes have been a part of the Czech-Lutheran tradition, literally, for hundreds of years. The dinner starts with the reading of the Christmas story from the book of Luke along with other scriptures and then after scripture we have family communion. In our communion we use a special large communion wafer (oplatki) that has the nativity imprinted on it. Then after scriptures, communion, and prayer—Dinner! The food we eat on Christmas eve has been in our family tradition for hundreds of years…and the main course is…haluska. Haluska is a homemade potato dumplings served with cottage cheese and small pieces of pork salt for flavor. Some people serve haluska with poppy seed. My sister Faith is the only one left in our family who likes poppy seed. For the rest of us the cottage cheese/pork salt version is the fav. We use the pork salt although the original recipe would not have, because they were fasting meat until midnight of Christmas eve in observance of Advent. Aside from the haluska we have sauerkraut and mushroom soup. Yes, you heard it right. In fact, yesterday I overnighted the imported European mushrooms to my two sisters in Ohio. Here in sunny Florida, a long ways from the place where this all began, I'm about to start soaking the imported European mushrooms today and will begin cooking the soup tonight. that's kinda my task. I start cooking early because the longer you cook sauerkraut the milder and sweeter it gets. i think i've gotten the recipe pretty close to my grandmothers--or at least how i remember it. Now here’s where things go sauer…along with the traditional Valo family foods we always have ham and baked beans… because the people who have married into the family need something to eat too. I must admit that our traditional food is probably an acquired taste but after all these years, it brings our family together. That’s what I love about holiday traditions. No matter where our life’s journey has taken us to, at least for a moment, it seems that tradition brings us back together. And for my sisters who I’ll not be with on Christmas Eve because of distance, maybe we’ll still draw near in heart, even for a moment, by celebrating these traditions wherever we are. Well, that’s our Christmas eve tradtion. Do you have one, If so, what’s yours?
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas Memories

Christmas Memories

Christmas has ALWAYS been my favorite time of the year. Growing up in the north it seemed that Christmas was especially enchanting. Shopping in our downtown was wonderful. Snow lined streets, people dressed up in festive winter sweaters, Christmas lights glowing from behind mounds of snow. A large evergreen in the town square where children from various schools would carol providing that crowning touch of Christmas ambience. I can hear them laughing and singing in pages of my mind, "City side walks, busy side walks, dressed in holiday style. In the air....." you get the idea. A lifetime of special moments just like those written in story books.

I moved to Florida in March of 1985. Spring and summer passed, soon fall was upon us and Christmas decorations began to appear everywhere. However, something seemed to be awry. The chill in the air that seemed to set the stage for the entire holiday drama never arrived. Instead a sub-tropical heat wave hit, forcing me to exchange my festive sweaters for a "Santa tank top." Oh yes, there were Christmas lights... but twinkle lights on palm trees almost seemed perverse. Now those Christmas carols that once rang from the mouths of rosy cheeked children seemed awful coming from a battery powered musical sand dollar. How miserable! Each new day added to the resentment I felt toward this awful charade of Christmas. This was not Christmas as I remembered it. I finally resolved that I would not celebrate in this land. I would wait until I could return home to the land of enchantment where Christmas joys abounded.

Soon my new acquaintances in Florida began to sense my cynicism toward the holiday that I once loved most. One night I was reciting my Christmas discontent when someone offered insight that would forever change my life. They started by saying that the reason I resented these Florida holiday traditions was because they were not the traditions I remembered. They went on to say that in order for me to find any joy I would need to make new memories. Oh my, what a thought.

Unbeknownst to me or my Christmas counselor, two other aquaintances left the crowd and to plan an elfish scheme. When I got home that evening, awaiting me at my door I found a beautiful, freshly cut, three foot evergreen tree. Fixed to the top was a bright red bow and a note: “We love you and want you to share Christmas with us! – from, Your new friends in Florida.” At that moment I sat down on the porch stoop and tears that came to my eyes seem to bring a clarity that I had quietly encountered my first new Florida Christmas memory. Within moments I called the Christmas culprits and told them that since I was going to have to now decorate a tree that they would have to come and help me (make more memories.) Within a short time my small apartment was filled with people, Christmas music and the making of new memories. Now, over twenty years later, early in each December, those friends and a score of others gather with me to continue the memories begun on that hot December night.

My advice to you during this holiday season is to remember your old friends and dare to make some memories with some new ones. Don’t let this Christmas season pass without making some great memories because today counts.