What a loaded word!
Etymologically, it’s two words: Christ’s Mass…literally Christ’s time. The time when the divine Son of the triune Godhead became incorporated into a fertilized ovum, grew into an embryo, then a fetus, and then born a human male child. Wow! I just used some triggering words there, didn’t I. Yet Christ was, and is, indeed a trigger. His appearance triggered a seismic change in the world’s calendar: from BC — before Christ to AD, anno Domine – the year of our Lord. His birth triggered a megalomaniac, homicidal king to order the murder of innocent boy toddlers and babies. His life, death, and resurrection triggered waves of horrific persecution that lasted centuries. Disagreements over who precisely He was and is and over the specifics of what His recorded words mean have triggered divisions, persecutions, and even wars.
How’s that for a mini-dissertation on a time that is supposed to be infused with light, peace, and love!
Social media, television, newspaper and magazine ads, all present an image of sparkling homes, glittering table settings, cozy fireplaces, cheerful gatherings of people, excited children, and joy, joy, joy mingled with buy, buy, buy. Platitudes encourage us to bask in our memories, traditions, and make new ones. Oh sure, the media trots out a piece now and then on how to acknowledge those people for whom the holiday is not all joy, joy, joy, and perhaps there is a mention or two from church pulpits to be mindful of and reach out to the hurting, but it seems to me the only people who read those articles are those who actually are hurting, those who only have memories left to them.
I have memories. Memories of picking out crooked trees with my father, of being loaded into the family car to tour the brilliant, multi-colored lights of Racine’s swankiest neighborhood, North Bay. Memories of a small living room in a small house crowded with people around a crooked Christmas tree. Memories of a table with all the leaves stretching it out to completely fill a kitchen and a dozen or more family members talking, laughing, and eating a bounteous feast. Memories of aunts, uncles and cousins dropping by for a visit or driving out of town to visit them. And later memories of even more family members crowded into a sister’s living room with a dog, a cat, or child on one’s lap, and an even more bounteous feast.
Oh, but there are other memories. Memories of times when my father was lost in his illness and family tiptoed around him. Memories of a drunken uncle cursing and crying. Memories of a little brother with an inherited neurological disorder having a meltdown.
But what I wouldn’t give to revisit those memories, both good and the bad. But time never stops. Everything changes. The children that once sat on my lap now have grandchildren of their own. Three of my older siblings, along with my parents no longer walk this earth. My remaining sister and her husband are more than 1,000 miles away. Oh, but I’m not alone. I am the defacto, if not dejure, guardian for my little brother. A brother who is very much wrapped up inside himself, who speaks almost solely to the men at church and to his dog. A silent dinner companion who wolfs his food and then is gone to his own house next door. A brother who could not care less about traditions and celebrations and…Christmas.
Minimalism has become quite the buzzword on social media these days. And we, my brother and I are having a minimalist Christmas. We brought our sister and brother-in-law’s Christmas gift to them back in November. The only other gift I had to buy was the one for him. (That’s done, but now I have to set it up) There’s a new pastor at church, so the Christmas celebration there is different this year – minus the fifteen dozen cookies baked by me. Ah yes, cookies. I haven’t baked a one. I have most of the ingredients along with the ingredients for fruitcake, but there they sit. I hung a wreath on the front door, put a battery operated candle in a window – and decorations done. No tree, not even the big Nativity scene – just a little glass one sitting on a lighted color-changing stand. But there is a half-full laundry basket holding pride of place in the living room. There’s no church service on Christmas Day, although there is an informal one early on Christmas Eve. I did send out a limited number of Christmas ücards and have received half a dozen. No turkey on the grill for Christmas dinner, although thanks to a good friend, a small venison roast. Mushrooms and wild rice instead of mashed potatoes and a broccoli salad instead of green bean casserole. Minimalist indeed.
Those who know me know that I am a traditionalist at heart. But traditions without people are hollow. I tried for years, no, decades to keep them alive, but it seems this year they have finally fallen away. I want them, I want the people back. Not possible. So, make new traditions, some might say. Hard to do with just the two of us, Little Brother and I. The dark, the cold, the snow have closed in this year. With the isolation, the realization has come that the memories, the traditions are something to be laid at the feet of that Babe in the manger…at the base of that cross. What can I say? It’s not grief…exactly. It’s not resignation…exactly. It’s not sadness nor depression…exactly. Yet somehow the heaviness is gone. Somehow, this quiet house is not quite so empty. Somehow, it’s okay.
No decorations, no mad rush to shop, wrap, and ship gifts. No traditional dinner. No traditional Christmas service. But something arrived on my doorstep today…a box of traditional German Christmas treats. Yup. Traditional, even though they are not part of my German-American family’s traditions. So sitting in front of an ice-rimed window, watching the juncos and chickadees and nuthatches and cardinals battle for supremacy of the bird feeder, I bite into a pfeffernüsse. It’s not quite as good as the ones I bought at Gabrielle’s German Bakery in Ashland. It’s not the gingerbread my mother made, that I made. But the spice explodes in my mouth and the mug of coffee in my hands is warm. And somehow, something, contentment perhaps, settles in around my shoulders like a shawl. Hmm…a new tradition.
Thank You, Jesus for pfeffernüsse.