~ Christmas Eve ~

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The first Christmas Eve Mass I attended was memorable for several, distinct reasons. I had been attending the daily masses pretty regularly since March and the regular pastor had returned in May from his sabbatical and the very first mass I attended with him presiding was one that I had intentions said for my friend’s death one year prior. His homily resonated with me in so many ways that from that moment on, he was my pastor, whether he knew it or not. This Christmas Eve, I was continuing to attend mass and yet had no intention of conversion. My attendance was in complement to my Jewish traditions. It was important to me. I didn’t kneel or cross myself, but the readings and the homilies spoke to me in a way that I was needing at that time.

Not knowing how holiday masses worked, I didn’t realize the amount of people who would be attending, especially the early mass when the kids were in abundance. The kids weren’t any problem, but the seating was at a premium as was the parking. I arrived at what I thought was on time, but which was late if I wanted a parking space conducive to my wobbly knee and a seat. I arrived and Father Jerry greeted me. He was happy to see me, and I him. He looked around to see if there was a seat (there wasn’t) and I said that I was fine to stand. He knew that this was not true as we had spoken about my knee in previous months. He asked a family in the last row if they could squeeze me in, and the grandfather mind you, stood so I could sit with his family, and he stood behind the pew.

This was not my first experience of the hospitality of my parish to be.

This wasn’t the first time that I knew I belonged here, whether I converted or not. Again, I wasn’t in the market for a new church or religion, but we often will get what we need when we need it rather than what we want or are looking for. This season was definitely one of those times. My conversion came before my baptism by more than a year. In my mind, while receiving the sacraments are an important part of the faith journey, for me it was something of a formality. In my heart, I was already Catholic. However, on this Christmas Eve, I wasn’t there yet.

All families have holiday traditions, whether they be in their nuclear family, their extended, their chosen family, traveling for the holiday, or staying home. One of ours from my husband’s side was Christmas Eve Chinese take out for dinner as well as a newer tradition of the Doctor Who Christmas special. My family was delayed for both by my choice to attend Christmas Eve Mass. I had already decided not to attend the Christmas Day Mass, not knowing that attending the Vigil Mass was the same in regard to the “obligation” to attend the next day’s mass. Of course, I was not under any obligation, but it still made a difference to me in knowing the distinction.

Tonight’s Christmas Eve Mass will be different from previous years. I won’t know how until I get there. We belong to a family of three parishes, and so in my church there will be only one Eve mass. We have a new pastor who I like very much but he is different, and that’s okay. The anticipation is both exciting and anxiety inducing. Instead of the last row, I’ll sit in one of the first rows with my friend in her usual seat. My family will pick up the Chinese food and I’ll meet them at home after. We have Napoleons for dessert as well as some leftover cookies once we make them for Santa. Our youngest is sixteen, almost seventeen (two more weeks), but Santa still expects his cookies. There is eggnog chilling in the fridge. Tomorrow’s dinner is planned as is the next day’s lunch with my oldest son who is working today.

Christmas Eve is preparatory, getting the church ready, getting the tree ready, getting the food ready, but also reliving a child’s birth in a manger in a cave halfway around the world, which resonates around the world. It is also preparing for the birth of a new year, looking ahead while also glancing behind, bringing forward the good, leaving the not so good. While some churches have already decorated, the inside of ours won’t be ready until we arrive tonight with wreaths and trees, wound with white lights, dim lighting makes way for brighter tomorrow, tonight the skylights are dark with the night sky. Garland and plants and flowers and of course, the empty manger that will be filled before the end of the night.

Happy Christmas Eve. May your night be peaceful and your tomorrow glorious.

Holiday Traditions and Change

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​Everyone has family traditions that they follow throughout the year, but none more than on those special holidays. I’ve written about some of our family’s traditions, some that have come from my family and some from my husband’s family as well as the ones we’ve begun ourselves.

For Thanksgiving, we’ve adopted my family’s sweet potato pie. I don’t always make pie, sometimes I make a casserole. It had already been changed from the original recipe that I received from my friend in New Orleans by eating it as a side dish. My mother could never fathom it as a dessert. She wasn’t much of a pumpkin pie eater either; more coconut custard or cheesecake.

My husband’s mother was born and raised in Northern Ireland. She brought many of her Christmas traditions to her family including a roast dinner for Christmas dinner and the most amazing trifle, which I find impossible to replicate, so I choose not to.

When we began to have Christmas at our own house with our immediate family, my husband was insistent that we follow his familiy’s traditions to the letter. This includes Chinese take-out for Christmas Eve dinner, Dunkin’ Donuts for Christmas breakfast before we open our gifts, and roast beef and mashed for Christmas dinner. Since I had grown up Jewish, we didn’t have any Christmas tradition conflicts. After my conversion, I attend mass and events at my parish, but those are usually not in conflict with what we’re planning at home.

We’ve added our own like the gift of pjs on Christmas Eve night for all the kids, baking cookies for Santa, and watching the Doctor Who Christmas special.

In between all of that, I attend the masses, the Advent reconciliation prayer service, and the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, a wonderful musical event that my parish holds every year.

Having every year flow in nearly the same way with only a few differences is comforting. It’s how we build the family and let the kids see what and who is important at the holidays.

Things change as the kids get older and want to spend time with their friends, girl- and boy-friends; they have jobs and have to juggle days off, and the like.

That is our challenge this year. My oldest son is an EMT, and he is working Christmas Day. He is working from 6am until midnight on Christmas Day. After some now-what-panic, i jumped into mom mode, and rearranged all of our days so we will still have our family holidays time, simply by moving everything up by one day. After the regular Vigil Mass on Saturday, we’ll have our Christmas Eve Chinese take-out, and make sure all the gifts are under the tree. We’ll wake up Sunday morning, and open our presents all together. Unfortunately for the kids, Santa doesn’t rearrange his schedule so they’ll have to wait for him to come on Monday morning, which is a bonus for we parents who can make the kids go to sleep early. Sneaky, IO know. Monday morning, my son will see if Santa filled his stocking before he heads out to a full day of work, and I will go to Christmas Day Mass that I usually miss in favor of the Christmas Vigil.

We all have our holiday challenges. This is a good reminder to everyone that as long as you’re with the ones you love, it will all work out in the end. It isn’t just the thought that counts; it’s the people.

Holiday Traditions – Christmas Eve

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​Before we moved and had children, my husband and I would spend Thanksgiving with my parents and Christmas Eve and Day with his parents. My sister always alternated Thanksgiving with her in-laws and I thought our way made things much simpler and fair for everyone since my family didn’t celebrate Christmas. After we moved and decided to stay home with our kids for Christmas so they could wake up in their own house, things changed for us, but we still kept several, if not all of my husband’s family’s traditions that my husband  brought to our family.  Continue reading

50-38 – Chinese Food

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While I love a good macaroni and cheese (Kraft blue box original), probably my next best comfort food is Chinese. It could be take-out, eat in, buffet, I don’t care. It is the best food in the world. It might even be my first go-to comfort food.

When I was a kid, we used to go to this place near our apartment. I don’t remember the name of it, but it was on Horace Harding Blvd. in Queens. It wasn’t brightly lit. That’s how we kids knew it was a fancy restaurant. My one vivid memory is being dressed up, so it may have been for some kind of school congratulatory meal. I remember the owner knew my parents. He’d greet us at the door and show us to our table, talking to my parents the whole time. My Dad was a friendly guy, and everyone loved him. It was like going to Cheers. 

We would sit at a large round table, covered with a white linen tablecloth. My parents would order: two from column A, one from column B, duck sauce and mustard. My mother put a dab of hot mustard in her wonton soup. I have never dared. Everything was put in the center and we shared, serving ourselves. This was the one place that no one ordered soda. We had a glass of water and of course, the hot tea. I loved those small tea cups, and I would put in more sugar than I should have. I think that was where I got my love for drinking tea. For dessert it was always either vanilla ice cream or pineapples with a fortune cookie. I would get the pineapples, but I think I only got them because they came with a toothpick that I used to pick up the small chunks of pineapple.

We used to bring Chinese take-out to my grandmother’s house sometimes. My grandmother’s house was kosher, so she never ate any of the food, and she made us eat on paper plates because we couldn’t put the non-kosher food on hers. We had to sit in the dining room and eat, and then clean up and take all of our leftovers with us.

As an adult, it took us a couple of years to find our perfect Chinese take-out place in our new town. My barometer is the fried rice, the egg rolls, and the spare ribs.I like really fried rice, brown in color with nice chunks of pork. My egg rolls also need to have little bits of pork in it and a nice crunchy shell. Spare ribs – the more burned, the better.

There is something warm and comforting about the smells and tastes of Chinese food. I really don’t know what it is.

My husband’s family has a tradition of eating Chinese take-out on Christmas Eve, and so we’ve adopted that for our family. We even have a Chinese take-out box ornament for our tree. Our kids know it, and look forward to it each year. It is a really nice tradition and ritual for them. They get a new pair of pajamas; we eat Chinese take-out, and we bake cookies for Santa.

It’s warm and wonderful.