Dear KIC Friends~
The hustle and bustle of Christmas preparation is over, and now comes the quiet week between two holy days of December 25 and January 1. We may enjoy all of it - even though we may exhaust ourselves - but Catholics know that it is not the trees and ornaments, the gifts and wrapping, the extra baking, or the get-together's that "make" Christmas. We could take all of that away and it would still be Christmas.
This year, during last-minute grocery shopping, I came across two reminders of family traditions that belong to the Christmas Eve's of my childhood. It's amazing, isn't it, how the mind will accept the gentlest of nudges to indulge in time travel?
Memories came flooding out of my mind, all because I was grocery shopping and accidentally came across two specialty items - a frozen "log" of "traditional Italian polenta" and, just inches away, "Italian chestnuts." I hadn't seen either in years, and just spying them on the shelves made me stop in my tracks. To any casual passer-by in that grocery store, I was just another shopper trying to make a decision. In reality, my mind had taken flight, taking me back to a Christmas Eve in Detroit, 39 years ago
In my mind's eye, I saw my paternal grandparents making a huge amount of "polenta," an Italian cornmeal - enough to feed their seven grown children, their spouses, and all the grandchildren on Christmas Eve. I remembered the piles of fresh, silver smelt on my grandmother's counter, waiting to be floured and fried. On the kitchen table, some type of cookie was under way - usually "pizzelle." A look at the large, old-fashioned stove beheld two large pots - one which seemed at least two feet high. Waiting nearby was an overly-long wooden spoon, perhaps as tall as I at the tender age of four years old. In the other large pot there gently cooked my grandmother's homemade tomato sauce - you know the kind, don't you? It was homemade from beginning to end, because the tomatoes came from Grandpa's garden and Grandma canned them. And that was just one of the many things my grandmother did -she is a lady (now close to her 100th birthday) who was an expert at "multi-tasking" before the word was even coined.
There was my father - preparing chestnuts, using a knife to engrave X's on their flat side. The nuts would later be placed on a baking sheet and anxiously watched. When the adults ascertained the chestnuts were ready, they were quickly poured from the sheets into serving bowls and just as quickly brought to the table. It has been many years since I've seen chestnuts, but I do remember that their heated outer hulls turned as soft as banana skins, so that the nuts could be peeled.
Later, sitting at the table, Daddy was singing with the uncles the beautifully moving, traditional Italian song that I know as "Jesu Bambino." After all these years, it is a song that brings tears to my eyes and a heaviness to my heart, so much is it interconnected with the memories I have of my father. For this particular Christmas that I remember was among the last handful of my young father's Christmases. After he died, I never heard my uncles sing that special song again...
Then the midnight countdown began, and we young cousins began vying for the honor of going to the Nativity Set and uncovering the newly-born Baby Jesus.
And as I returned to the present, my hands instinctively reached out for the polenta and chestnuts even as the tears burned my eyes.
All of these things, and more, were part of my Christmases of the long ago, and I treasure them - because they are "little" family traditions in honor of the Infant Jesus, Who was born in poverty, grew up in poverty, and died on the Cross to offer us redemption.
Sometimes we adults, so often weary with the daily toil of life, forget that little eyes are watching. It is said that children learn best by example. Watching the adults in the family, I learned about quiet perseverance, and even joy, in doing one's daily duty. As life's daily duties keep us very tired adults occupied, through the holy days and every day of the year, let's remember all that was asked of us by Our Lady of Fatima, especially when she taught us - her children - to "Make everything you do a sacrifice." Let us remember Our Lord, Who later told Sr. Lucia that the sacrifice He requires of us now is to do our daily duty.
It is not easy to "do our daily duty" in a post-Christian era opposed to the Catholic faith or (because it is integrally linked to Catholicism) to anything resembling tradition - whether religious or familial. With the grace of God, however, we will manage to continue to do "our daily duty" - without much fussing or clamoring for attention. What we *can* do is offer all of those daily duties to God, in reparation for the sins committed against the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts and for the conversion of sinners.
Our children will learn these truths by our own words and our example. They are learning every day from every "little" thing we do. As the years pass so quickly by, the children who become teens and then adults will eventually discover that those little lessons of quiet daily duty possess profound depth and meaning. What the world may call little things - both the spiritual and the corporal - are matters of tradition.
And so in memory of Christmases of the not-so-long-ago, which will "keep company" with all the other little family traditions I've tried to keep over the years, I'll be pulling out a little bit of polenta and giving my children their first taste of it. I'll be asking my husband or my older boys to carve X's in the chestnuts I brought home. I'll bake those chestnuts and offer them to the children; I'll even try my first taste of them since I was a very small girl. And again I will enjoy the "big moment" when our youngest removes the cotton hiding the little Infant Jesus in the Nativity set.
I'll be thinking of my father, as I always do, and I'll be remembering my Uncle Jim, who passed away this past June, and my maternal grandmother Nanny, and Grandpa, and many other loved ones... And if my heart can manage it, I may even lead my children in a few bars of what my sisters and I now call "Daddy's Christmas Song."
I will not only remember my loved ones, but I'll be praying for them, too - those who may already be with God in heaven, those that may be in purgatory and desperately need our prayers and sacrifices, and those here on earth.
May God bless you and yours this Christmas and always,
Keeping It Catholic