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.

My Pin Collection – 3

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Post 3

L-R: Kids playing, the initial K (this was the first gift I received from my students as a teacher), Teacher’s desk, Child, Wooden heart, 2 figures dancing, NY’s Odyssey of the Mind, inside the Odyssey pin, Fall cornucopia, US Navy MWR name tag. (c)2017

Flowers, Clockwise: Starburst in purple and green, Daisy, Daffodil, Rainbow stones in a butterfly. This one was my mother’s. She collected butterfly pins and other accessories. I think this one is my favorite. (c)2017

Christmas Collection, L-R: Spode porcelain wreath, Silver penguins, Clay/ceramic SNopwman, Copper-colored wreath with snowman, Streetlight. (c)2017

Clockwise: Delaware, Winnie-the-Pooh, Strasburg RailRoad, Duran Duran, Daffy Duck. (c)2017

A Christmas Gift

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​My first Christmas at church I didn’t know what to expect. I had never spent so  much time in a pew until that spring before that first Christmas. The season of Advent was a surprise to me. I thought it was  merely the religious counter to consumerism post-Halloween. Pumpkins and turkeys and tall evergreen trees fighting for space on store shelves and floors, hanging on wires from warehouse height ceilings. Sets of twenty-five mini boxes filled with the chocolate or tea or Lego of the day.

But church Advent wasn’t that. It was greenery and purple, the season of waiting, of patience, of reflection. I had no idea what I was doing, where the path I trod would take me and so patience and reflection were exactly what I needed.

Didn’t we all?

And apparently that insight, that foresight was already built into the season.

And, then, overnight, seemingly as if by magic, wreaths adorned the walls alternating with the windows. Purple ribbons changed to gold. At the back of the choir, the tall evergreen, white lights shining brightly and garland delicately strung across the bottom of the organ pipes appeared.

I did know that there would be more people at Christmas services than at the daily masses, and even more than at the Sunday masses. I thought the pews would be filled, everyone tightly sitting, trying not to touch their neighbor but failing at that, everyone finally giving up the pretense.

Filling the pews, laughter and song, smiles and handshakes. What I didn’t know was that it would be standing room only, barely meeting fire code, if at all. That first Christmas Eve, the low hum of talk between carols, seeing the pastor, greeting the pastor, shocked as he remembered my name. The lights dimmed giving off the feeling of candlelight. Father J asking the back row to budge over so I could sit, leaving me no good way to sneak out if it became too much.

I was unknown and still welcomed as family. No strings, no judgment, malice toward none.

The week before this Eve was something many churches do, but many more used to do. The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. I thought it was a sing-a-long, but it was more a solemn service alternated with hymns.

Ode to Joy. My favorite moment in the Die Hard movie was actually Beethoven and part of the Christmas music selection; with words. I grinned ear to ear at something so familiar in such a strange setting.

Around the middle, towards about three quarters, the music director, D, began his piano and sang the first three words – O, holy, night. This song wasn’t in the book , the guide we’d received when we arrived, a clear indication that we were to listen and not join in.

It wouldn’t have mattered had the words been there with the direction to chorus. D’s voice rose and fell and held notes I couldn’t imagine existed. It was as if the sky opened and angels guided his music. It was more than just a lovely song by a lovely voice, although it was that also. It was more than a heart could hold. It was G-d and joy and love and spirit rising as incense, speaking to souls. I held my breath. I didn’t realize I had tears in my eyes until the last note when the spell was broken with applause.

Every year since then I wait through all the musical offerings, enjoying all, but hoping my Christmas gift arrives from D and it usually does in a pre-piano hush that clears the senses before they can be filled again.

The birth of the child who would be King in every note, every breath, every moment.

On the 12th Day of Christmas, My True Love gave to Me:

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​ …Twelfth Night.

After college, I was fortunate enough to meet some people and get involved in a historical reenactment group. We’re still family but I miss the day to day. Facebook is not an adequate substitute.

We held events, most were annual favorites, and one of the ones I loved was Twelfth Night. It was when we exchanged gifts for the holiday season.

I didn’t pay much attention to why we did our “Christmas” later despite doing ridiculous amounts of research into my Welsh persona. I think I just thought that everyone was busy with their mundane lives and this was when we all got together as a medieval family again.

It wasn’t until later, teaching, reading about a multitudes of December holidays, and really looking at the liturgical calendar that I noticed that Twelfth Night falls on the twelfth day of Christmas, Three Kings Day, the Epiphany.

Everything makes sense now.

Well, not everything, but this does.

And since that journey of the three wise men and others who are not so lauded or remembered, more than I can count have journeyed to meet the Christ child. We can’t all go to Bethlehem, but He will meet us where we are, and he does.

Discernment

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​​How did you discern your vocation, your call to follow Christ? Who were the people who mediated that call?

– Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas: Waiting in Joyful Hope 2016-17 by Bishop Robert F. Morneau

I don’t consider what I believe or what I do through that belief and faith to be a vocation. That may just be my mind’s unwillingness to grasp the meaning of that word, and I may simply need a little more time to wrap my head around it. To me vocation equals job, so for vocation, I think more of priests, nuns or religious women, deacons, even ministry lay people, but for me simply as a follower of Christ, I don’t think of it or call it a vocation. Perhaps in time, it will become that in my mind whether or not something changes tangibly or not.

So for me, this discernment, which is another word I had to wrap my head around, is about my call to follow Christ. I didn’t recognize the call to follow at all. I came to the physical building of a church for solace, for meditation, for silent ranting, and conversing with G-d. Jesus was not part of the picture.

I don’t doubt not that He led me there, but it wasn’t with a neon sign although there was a street sign. Looking back on it now, it would have been a really sad excuse for a Hallmark channel movie; so improbable, so contrived if I’d thought of it as a five step program.

But there I was led, and once I settled in to looking inward and selflessly instead of the opposite, things fell into place spiritually. Once the call came, there were no doubts, no second thoughts. I, the queen of second guesses and wishy-washyness was shocked with which the ease of following Christ came to me.

I was looking for nothing, and I received everything. Once He reached out to me, He was there. I knew all the things I needed to know, and each step was taken with little thought, but all heart. No regrets.

The people in my life didn’t so much mediate the call as supported it, both before and after.

Prior, I had a friend who emulated forgiveness and love thy neighbor. It hadn’t occurred to me that these were Christian values until I saw it in action under no labels. Watching him forgive what I could never made me acutely aware of how many grudges I held, even if I thought there were a few strong ones, it was a few too many. I began to see things in a different light. My circle of friends supported me and held me up when I would falter, and none of that was expressly Christian or Christ-like; but was just good and decent and human.

Humanity.

Empathy.

Pushing courage into my veins like an energy drink.

After those friends, my church family was so welcoming. Before I was Catholic. Before I would ever hear the call; embrace the call, they were there in all of there capacities.

The women in the pew who talked to me, never once asking me where I’d come from or why I was there (since I wasn’t Catholic).

The priest who I was wary of since my start at Masses came before his return from Roman sabbatical. I do not like change. Any change. My middle name should be wary-skeptical-cynical.

His first homily on or around the anniversary of my friend’s mur/der about a red steamer trunk and his sabbatical that sounded remarkably like my recent pilgrimage to Wales was so profound that it left an indelible mark on my soul.

He also welcomed me into the counseling room, not so much counseling as counsel and talk, and never once asked when I would be joining the church or attending Sunday Mass. Not once.

In fact, no one in this parish community ever asked me when I would be converting. They welcomed me anyway.

The church secretary who became my godmother, so knowledgable, so kind, so full of grace to answer my questions, and fill me in on things I may not be as mindful to not growing up in the church. She is my guide and my friend.

All the people at the daily masses who said hello and smiled at me.

The medical and hot water heater help through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, never once questioning my church going (or not going), not knowing me from Adam, and helping. These men and women have a calling; a vocation.

I was never asked for a donation.

I was never asked for anything before in my heart I knew I could give it. And somehow, they also knew.

I could feel people praying for me. My life did not miraculously improve overnight, but I could feel it – people, friends, acquaintances.

Holy Spirit.

Seeing through the RCIA program, amazingly and profoundly at how much they were teaching me that I already believed since childhood and couldn’t quite put a finger on.

So many people involved and encouraging through a simple head nod and a smile.

The people (you) who read my things here and tell me their stories of their own callings or ask questions about mine or simply hit the like button. It is all part of that mediation, the meditation, the call and the give back.

The calling had been there all along; I only had to quiet myself down to hear it.

On the 6th Day of Christmas, My True Love gave to Me:

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…more snow, a Walking Dead marathon on AMC, and a New Year to be better in.

Tonight we’ll look back and collect our thoughts, gather our prayers, and look forward. 2017 is less than fourteen hours away, and the work’s not done. 2016 was extraordinarily difficult for several of us, and 2017 won’t miraculously be easier, but it will be, and so we need to be open to it.

Are you open to it?

Fandom Merchandise and Where to Find It

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​As I look at my Christmas gifts, and my recent birthday gifts before that, I am struck, but not terribly surprised by how much relates to the variety of fandoms and pop culture things I am involved in. Many of these things have stayed with me since my teen years, to the point that I no longer participate, but they still hold an important place in my heart. The one example that comes to mind was my getting a new messenger bag: ThinkGeek’s Bag of Holding. It’s so glorious that I’ll be writing a separate review of it. My son was a little annoyed that I would be getting it – it was a little expensive, but with the thirty percent discount that was offered, it was well worth it. He was still a little annoyed and exclaimed, “You don’t even like Dungeons & Dragons!” I think I may have snorted. I was momentarily speechless.

I don’t like Dungeons & Dragons?! Do you even know me?! I had been playing Dungeons & Dragons since high school. In our school cafeteria, we would use the half-pint milk container as a six-sided die. Every weekend in college, we’d get together in the blue room to play. Dave, our DM (dungeon master) would not let us have any alcohol. We got stupid. We were probably the only group on a Saturday night not drunk. We would play all weekend, talking time only to sleep before the next night’s game.

I met my college roommate in a study hall through a conversation about character sheets.

My oldest son used my original books when he and his friends played Dungeons & Dragons.

Not a fan?! Harumph!

Glancing at The Walking Dead trivia box, the Hufflepuff necklace, the Supernatural zipper bag, the Star Trek 50th anniversary gold ornament with sound, I saw just how many fandom things there are, and I also realized how difficult it was to get some of them.

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On the 3rd Day of Christmas, My True Love gave to Me:

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…hope.

In reading today’s reflection from the Morneau book, I read this statement: Pessimism can sweep through the human heart.

I have not felt that as much as I have in this past year. One thing after another, beginning with David Bowie and Alan Rickman and most recently with George Michael and Carrie Fisher. I can’t list all of the names that have affected me this year, so, so many, none more important and felt than my mother-in-law who passed away suddenly in June. And then there’s the election. This year has been a lot; too much in fact.

In our home, everything is clouded with the loss of my children’s last grandparent, the only one my youngest two knew.

It’s been a hard balance to maintain, keeping things hopeful for my kids while continuing to honor the memory of their grandmother. I could talk for hours about her, and in the next few months I will talk some more.

This is our first Christmas.

One of the things that was difficult for me was Christmas shopping. I’d see something and think that it was perfect for her, and then I’d remember and walk on by. It was too much.

Then I embraced it.

She loved cardinals. We always gave her a cardinal ornament for Christmas and often also for her birthday in January, so instead of walking past the cardinals, I bought two for our tree. I thought it would upset my husband, but he said we should hang them near the top.

I also went to our local Irish import shop for a Celtic necklace for my close friend, and while I was there, I noticed the candy set out for Christmas. I decided to buy a selection to give to the kids in honor of their grandmother and her homeland, and the accent they knew so well and loved.

It is only recently that I understand that word, bittersweet – the simultaneous joy and sad; the pessimism with the path to hope that we only need to find, to shine a light on the dark.

Meditation: Does too much reading of history or current events threaten your hope? What are some ways of sustaining hope in a world wrestling with so much darkness?

From Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas: Waiting in Joyful Hope 2016-17 by Bishop Robert F. Morneau

The current events of these last few months have been straining. Is there too much reading of history or current events? I don’t know. History lets us see how far we’ve come, and gives us the knowledge that we will overcome all of this, including our new president, which is the most worrisome thing I’ve had to face in these last couple of months, but I’ve seen the hope in the pages of my friends, in Robert Reich and Ezra Klein, in Connie Schultz, and in the recent remembrances and quotations of Carrie Fisher, a strong woman who took her faults and failings and showed us how to live with them and become better despite or even because of them.
We are wrestling with darkness, but whether we light a candle as we curse the darkness, we are still assured that the sun will rise in the morning, and that is our cue to rise as well; to rise up. Hope springs eternal because hope is eternal.