Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas is a comin' and the goose is getting fat...

Christmas in Mexico

Imagine Christmas without Christmas trees, familiar Christmas carols, and no gift giving… A few years ago we were without Christmas plans and so we travelled to Oaxaca Mexico. That Christmas we found bright colored banners and lights decorating the streets, music in many forms, and a festive feeling every night in the central plaza. New friends and old invited us to join them for food and conversation. Special Christmas celebrations in the churches often included special music or joyful parades in the plazas and streets.

Oaxaca - Central Zocolo - people talking, playing, enjoying the evening

Throughout the week before Christmas, there were festive street calendas (parades); and a few days before Christmas we walking in a traditional “posada” – going from house to house with Mary and Joseph looking for an inn. At each stop we sang a Mexican Christmas carol (we could read the words)…finally in the last house we were granted entry and came in for wine and cookies.

Judy and I walking in a Christmas Eve "Calenda" - holding candle lanterns

Christmas eve we joined a parade (complete with our own brass band ) and walked from our neighborhood to the central plaza… along we way we merged with other parades and other bands until we all converged together on the central plaza. It was a wild cacophony of bands and fireworks…color and excitement! Christmas morning we ate fresh fragrant sweet tomales wrapped in banana leaves. On twelfth night, the night when the wise men traditionally visited Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus - on this day gifts are given to the children.

Christmas Growing up in Kansas

Road out to the Zlatnik homestead (In winter this would be deep in snow)

There was a stand of junipers growing on the old Zlatnik homestead in North Eastern Kansas. When I was a boy growing up, a week or so before Christmas I would go with my father to cut a free growing juniper for our Christmas tree. The trees were always fresh and so sweet smelling when we sat them up in our home. Decorations were simple, old ornaments were brought out from storage, to this we added strings of fresh popcorn and cranberries, also paper chains made of red and green construction paper . My mother was especially busy in the days before Christmas baking and cooking food for us and food to share. The smell of fresh baking Kolaches (traditional Czech festive breads) remains one of my fondest memories of the Christmas season.

Bohemian style "Kolache" - now baked in California

Christmas dinner was a highlight of the season- we often invited the Bellman family (my Mother’s sister and her family) to join us. Typically my father killed a big fat hen and my mother prepared the chicken with noodles. There would be mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, home canned vegetables, cabbage-walnut-apple salad, and fresh baked rolls. For desert it might be mince meat pie!

Zlatnik family with the Bellman family - about 1947 - Early Color Photograph

After washing the dishes we would gather around the piano and spend the afternoon singing together. This was before TV, Christmas music on the radio was an important part of the Christmas season. Our small Presbyterian Church generally set up a simple Christmas tree. I remember how we and sang special Christmas carols on the Sundays before Christmas. The entire Christmas season was focused on the birth of Jesus.

Delia Kansas - Presbyterian Church

Once I recall a special Christmas eve pageant and we children performed – I was a shepherd. Christmas morning we opened presents, generally clothing or practical things that we needed, for the children a few toys. And if we were really lucky we woke Christmas morning to a fresh snow fall – a White Christmas.

John (9 yrs. old)

Reclaiming Christmas

So how did things change in America? How did Christmas get so commercialized and how did the “Christmas Spirit” get so packaged? It is sad because it doesn’t have to be this way. I suspect that it’s “all about the economy”. Makes me wonder if public spending patterns have been skillfully manipulated by "financial interests". Is it possible that this change has gradually over the years been engineered toward causing us to believe that it is right and necessary to buy bigger and better (and more) gifts?

For two thousand years we who are Christians have been celebrating the fact that new hope can come into a troubled world. It is a message that appears contrary to reason, but if we allow ourselves to see beyond the simple story it is possible to discover something more. I now live in a diverse culture, I know people with strong spiritual interests who are not religious. I know Christian people of different traditions who are intolerant of interpretations other than their own… I do believe that all of us who are human have a great need to make sense of our lives. For many today, it is a time of spiritual hunger.

First Presbyterian Church - Palo Alto CA.

For me, I find meaning in the stories and concepts of my Christian tradition. The stories take on profound significance when I go beyond a concern for literal accuracy – when I allow the stories to speak to me in their deeper symbols and meanings they provide new meaning for my life today. To reclaim Christmas we must rediscover that there is something wonderful to celebrate about the audacious belief that new hope and promise can be born in the darkest night. Christmas is about the unbelievable good news that the transcendent grace of God does break through into this world. That is what makes celebrating the birth of Jesus special for me.


P.S.: Community Message has been issued by the Fremont Police Department (CA).

This is where I walk the dogs daily!!

A mountain lion sighting on Sunday, near the Quarry Lakes Regional Park area has been confirmed. East Bay Regional Parks has posted fliers on the trail notifying the public. Fish/Game said that the animal presented no public danger and that mountain lions have been previously spotted in the same location. It is believed that the mountain lion was female and pregnant.

Should you come into contact with a mountain lion, the Tri-City Animal Shelter suggests that you follow these tips:

Do not approach the lion.

Do not run from the lion.

While facing the lion, wave your arms slowly and speak in a loud voice.

Do not crouch down or bend over

Do all you can to appear larger

Back away slowly, giving the lion an opportunity to escape.

Fight back if attacked.