Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas and me

Delia Kansas - the closest town to our farm - Population 100 people

1.     Growing up on a farm in northeastern Kansas there were no Christmas Tree lots from where to buy trees – however there was a nice stand of Juniper trees growing on the old family farmstead. A few days before Christmas my father and I would go out and choose a good small tree – The Junipers did not grow as full and balanced as fir trees – so my father used a hand drill to make holes in the trunk at empty spots and inserted small branches of the right size into the holes – By the time he was finished the tree was beautiful.... and it smelled so good!  We decorated it with colorful electric lights, old glass ornaments used year after year, icicles, paper chains made by us kids from construction paper, popcorn chains, and cranberry chains…to my young eyes they were absolutely beautiful by the time we finished.

Midwestern Juniper

2.     There was always a special service the evening before Christmas in the Presbyterian Church. Delia had 2 churches, Presbyterian and Catholic.  The church was decorated for Christmas.  This is where I learned the old Christmas songs; and sometimes I was drafted into the Christmas skit – usually as a shepherd, dressed in a bathrobe and a dish cloth tied around my head…After the service there were Christmas goodies for all.   It was really special if it snowed before Christmas – coming out from  church into the cold crisp air, walking through the crunching snow to our car…And then later that night I would listen intently for Santa's sleigh bells.  ( He always ate the cookies and milk that I left for him!)

Delia Presbyterian Church

3.     The Czech community in Delia had lost many of its Czech cultural roots – but every Christmas and sometimes for Easter my mother and many of the other women made Kolache… these are small 4 inch pastries made of pastry puff dough, with a central core of filling – The most Czech varieties made a traditional filling of dried prunes or dried apricots. Some simplified the filling and just added jam.  There was a roasted crushed nut topping on top… I loved them then and still do!  When I visited the Czech Republic I was interested to see Kolache there – and found that my mother had kept close to the tradition.


4.     Gift giving was part of Christmas – but the gifts were mostly small. Some of my childhood years – my father planted a small field of popcorn to sell – It was however a lot of work to pick the small corncobs – and I remember my sister Helen and I picking the dried ears of corn to earn extra money to buy Christmas gifts.  When we asked our parents for suggestions they told up of things that the other parent would need anyway – A pair of cotton work gloves, Shaving soap, a new pair of scissors, a tool, or a bottle of toilet water.  My sister and I mostly received things that we needed – but usually at least one special gift that we wanted- For my sister it might be a book or a collection of sheet music (she played the piano very well) … for me the most memorable gift of my Childhood was a Chemistry set with a book of instructions for all kinds of wonderful chemical reactions!  Mind you –this was before the day of ‘safe and sane’ chemistry sets – so I could make impressive explosions, dyes that would stain my hands, horrible smelling smoke  (to my delight), invisible ink, model volcanoes… I’m not sure how much real chemistry I learned but I sure had a lot of fun creating things.

A snowy day - ( Photo by Laverne Zlatnik) 

5.     Over the years American economic interests have changed Christmas – Now in many places the push to buy 'stuff' for Christmas starts just after Halloween.  We have Black Friday, and Cyber Monday… buy … buy … buy …In our anxiety, we ask:  "What is the economic index this year? – are Americans spending as much as other years…" It is now one of the most stressful seasons for many – Many people fear that their social status or loving family will be damaged if they haven’t bought the ‘right’ gift for each person on your list… It has gotten really crazy in some households!  There are signs of many people returning to sanity – it is possible now to give a gift to a loved one in the name of your favorite charity.  You can give a pig or a goat, a hive of bees, or a smokeless stove through 'Heifer Project'  or help address world disasters through  'Doctors without Borders'… Sure makes sense to me!  What makes the world a better place – me getting a gift of some electronic garget or a third world person getting a water filter to protect the whole family from water borne disease?

This woman is happy because she just received a donkey - she won't have too carry water 

6.     One of the things I like best about Christmas are the relationships – the people – getting together with family and friends – eating and laughing together – Now, because of distance, we most often spend holidays with Judy’s family – many I only see once or twice a year – but we have long histories of warm relationships – So there are lots of hugs, and story telling, recounting family history – remembering those no longer here… it is family at its best…

Jesus speaking with  an outcast Samaritan - outrageous for him to speak to 1. a Samaritan, 2. an unknown woman, and 3 a woman with a 'shady' past...  he saw her personhood...

7.  In my life, I  have wrestled with the Biblical Christmas story - but I now feel quite comfortable with it.  I realize that there are many stories in the Bible that dont have to be literally true to convey great  truth and meaning.  The coming of Jesus continues to make a difference to people today.  Jesus lived a life of serving others, helping the poor, sick, outcasts, social rejects.   He defied the social and religious norms of his time.  It would be audacious to say that I seek to emulate the ways of Jesus - but I can seek to follow his example of recognizing the personhood of each person. - I can seek to move from arguing to listening to others... from only  asserting my beliefs to attempting  to enter into dialogue. Even more important I know that seeking to  be in relationship with Jesus gives me a sense of wholeness and connectedness...that gives my life meaning. In Jesus I find my center.