Christmas Presence Redux

December 23, 2016

Can it really be six years since I wrote my Christmas Presence post?! So much has changed since then, but the essence remains.

Michael, now 18, commented last week that he hasn’t really felt in the Christmas spirit this year. Perhaps it’s because he’s been focusing on college applications, senior year schoolwork, getting to know his “Little Brother” in his new role as Big Brother. Perhaps it’s the lingering anxiety over the election results and near daily nominations of fervently anti-government people to lead major parts of our government. I feel it, too.

But I’ve been carving out moments to observe Advent, lighting the purple and pink candles and singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” before dinner, lighting the window candles each evening afternoon (let’s be honest, sunset is at 4:15), baking St. Nicholas cookies and Hungarian Christmas bread with its nutty, sweet, spicy filling.

Kevin, Michael, and I partially decorated the tree on Tuesday. Hannah arrives home this afternoon for nearly a week. The next days will be filled with cooking, music, wrapping, the inevitable last-minute shopping, and a fair bit of laughter, story-telling, and sharing. I expect there may be time for some knitting, too.

Rereading that post from 2010, I realize that my current creative juices can’t compete. So here it is again. Thank you for reading and for joining me on this journey. Sending wishes of light and hope to you and yours.

Christmas Presence

When Michael recently told me his favorite part of Christmas, I thought he said “presents,” but he continued, explaining that he really likes the “presence” — the smell, sounds, sights, anticipation, tastes, and as he put it, “the feeling you get from all of that and all the love.” Out of the mouths of babes (OK, he’s 12 but you know what I mean!).

Preparing mantel for Christmas nativity sceneSometimes traditions can feel stifling, but most of the time, I find them comforting and reassuring.  They’re like blazes on a trail, marking the way, letting you know where you are.  Even if you’re not sure where “here” is, even if you’re tired or grumpy, you pause and say “here I am. This is the place. Take note.”

Lights in the windows on the first Sunday of Advent, shining in the afternoon darkness. The next weekend, the “building” of the creche on the mantel.  It’s become a bit of a hodge-podge with figures added over the years — a toy giraffe, a cartwheeling angel, a Caribbean drummer. Note the knitted stocking, made by my mom nearly 50 years ago — with my name knit into the edge even.  She’s good!

Mantel with nativity crecheMy family has what my late cousin Sarah called “the food gene.” We like to cook, eat, think about cooking, gather for meals, read recipes, cookbooks, and cooking magazines. The Advent and Christmas seasons have lots of food traditions, of course.

spices for St. Nicholas cookies: clove, cinnamon, cardamon, cinnamon, aniseEvery December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, my mom (also a wonderful baker and cook) would make St. Nicholas cookies.  Delightfully spicy and cut into little “bookmarks,” they are perfect for dunking — or just munching. We’re not Dutch and don’t celebrate St. Nicholas Day in any other way (no candy & toys in boots at the foot of the bed).

StNickCookiesRolledI’m sure my mom found the recipe in a cookbook or magazine sometime in the 1950s or 60s and, knowing a good recipe when she sees one, she made a batch…every year!  This year when I emailed my youngest brother to say that I’d made these yummy treats, he replied that his first batch wasn’t so great and that he planned to make a second batch that evening.  It’s not just me.  Try them yourself.

recipe for St. Nicholas cookiesWith my high schoolers having mid-term exams this week, I’m staying up late, being present, and knitting.  The wrap is off the needles, blocked, and awaiting buttons.  More on that later. I leave you with Hannah and her sister-friend Charlotte preparing the tree, another tradition.

H&CTreePeace.

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