I am half way between our celebration of Christmas and the celebration of the beginning of a new year. We had a fun and joyful Christmas Eve celebration and I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on whether we provided an appropriate celebration of a religious holy day of such magnitude. I have struggled as long as I can remember with trying to keep the season holy while surrounded by the hyped up commercialism that begins weeks in advance. Advent is the season of preparation of your spirits, our souls, for the coming of the Christ child into our lives, bringing renewal and meaning into what it means to be Christian.
This year we had 19 people celebrating around our Christmas Eve dining table. We had to snuggle in tight for all to fit around the table but there was lots of laughter and conversation bouncing from one end to the other, back and forth. Fate has given our Christmas dinner a measure of Russian/Kyrgyz culture in the past few years, and even more so this year.
Our daughter-in-law is from Armenia, previously a part of the USSR, and still enjoys speaking and hearing her native Russian language. She also gets great joy from cooking for others, including the foods she enjoyed while growing up. Our middle off-spring lived and worked in Biskek, Kyrgyzstan and became very close to a colleague and her daughter who are now both working on degrees from Kent State University in Ohio. They came to stay with us for five nights, both are ethnic Kyrgyz, but also fluent in Russian and English. During their stay she made us plov (the v pronounced like ff), a Kyrgyz dish of rice, vegetables, and lamb.
A couple of years ago our youngest daughter met some new children when she walked her youngest to the bus stop. There weren’t playmates in the neighborhood so she went to their house to introduce herself and possibly arrange a play date. The mother had just immigrated from Kyrgyzstan with her husband (a U.S. citizen who did contract work for the military in Bishkek) and their three children. Her in-laws have not accepted her and the marriage is failing – it has been a rough couple of years. I invited them to our celebration because she is ethnically Russian and I figured she would enjoy having adult conversations with other Russian speakers. I understand this because our native tongue is the one we use to speak from our soul, what our spirit uses to express who we are.
The gathering was joyful, high energy, and for me exhausting. I went to bed very tired, with achy body, but with a warm glow within. I have also been pondering if there was more I could have done to make this a celebration of Christ’s birth. I realized that there were only about 6 of the 19 who are practicing Christians, and a maybe a few more who identify as Christian but without church affiliation. I set out the manger under the upstairs Christmas tree and had traditional carols playing. As people arrived, choruses of “Merry Christmas” rang out, along with excited proclamations of “So nice to meet you.”
Was there more we should have done? We planned the menu to meet the needs of all who attended; young and old, Western & Central Asian, family and guest. We do very little gift exchanging – mostly gifts to nieces and nephews, and the new children were included. And most importantly all were able to participate in our 15 year tradition of ‘the Christmas stocking pile’. JB and I spend a whole year looking for items to include for people of all ages and life stage, I spend hours wrapping, and all have the excitement of taking their turn picking items. They then welcome the challenge of bartering for items they would like that someone else picked. JB and I love shopping for this tradition, and all look forward to the event – from our 50-ish old children, young adults, teens, right down to preschoolers. And even guests from distant lands learn the tradition quickly.
Everyone leaves with gifts, and from my perspective the gifts were purchased and wrapped for the baby Jesus. They are given to family, friends, and new guests with love, good-will and the wish that the gifts will bring joy in the new year. It is a way to include all in our celebration of the coming of the embodiment of love and inclusion in the form of a holy babe. We are successful in our celebration of Christmas to the extent that all who enter our home and participate in our traditions feel welcome and cared about. This includes the old, the young, the ones with lots of tattoos, with green hair, and especially those who bring gifts to us of stories of far off places that have different ways of celebration. This year I feel more whole because of all the gifts of laughter, love, and story that were brought into our home and wrapped around me. Yes, Jesus has been celebrating with us.
Update on my hat making: I think I made over 60 hats for people getting meals at the local homeless shelter but only 40-some made it there. As people were making noises of having to leave (it was snowing and everyone had a one to two hour drive home) I brought out the box of hats for anyone who would like one. What fun they had trying on different ones in front of the mirror until they found the perfect one – or in case of the children who couldn’t decide, it was the perfect two. The day after Christmas we took the rest to the shelter and it felt so good knowing that family, friends of our family, and people I don’t know will feel some comfort in this very frigid winter. I have ordered more yarn on-line to be delivered for hat knitting in Florida next week.