The older I get the faster time passes. These past few weeks have been disorienting to me because holidays/observances have occurred on Mondays (Veteran’s Day), Thursday/Friday (Thanksgiving), and who could forget Tuesday (Election Day)! While my life is fairly ordered and predictable, I really can’t tell the difference between Saturdays, Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays. I do know when Thursday is because that night is my night for TV.
Now that we’re in the countdown to Christmas, I am looking forward to getting out my collection of Advent Calendars. This was a long-standing tradition in my family, with my Mother purchasing new calendars every few years while carefully preserving and keeping ones from prior years. This way we got to rotate the calendars and renew our relationship with the surprises behind each day.
Patience has never been my strong suit. The Advent Calendar gave me a way to calm my anticipatory energies and just focus on what’s-behind-the-door-today. Back in those days, there were cute little Christian-themed pictures behind every door. Then somebody got the idea of doing one with different kinds of chocolate behind the door –
My family was big on making gifts rather than buying them. One year I made calendars for special people. That was daunting. Another year I made wall hangings out of thin pieces of wood and carved the peace symbol into them and decorated each with a dove outlined in rice. All of this was inspired by two things – the reality that I didn’t have a lot of money to buy gifts and the annual Advent Workshops hosted by our church and led by an incredibly creative church lady by the name of Nan Kaper.
These workshops were held the four weekends preceding Christmas. Mrs. Kaper was a dynamic organizer who put together different themes for each weekend, then designed craft stations to produce (among other things) burlap wall hangings with geometric felt pieces in differing colors. These seemingly unrelated mosaics, when arranged according to Nan’s plan, turned into crèche scenes or the Three Wise Men bearing gifts. Folks had a fun afternoon gluing and chatting and left with remarkably resilient heirlooms. Mine have been happily displayed for over 50 years!
When we weren’t attending an afternoon Advent Workshop, my mother and I spent time baking. In our family (German by heritage), there was a tradition of baking Christmas Stöllen. We pronounced it “Schtuhl-len”, not “stolen” (like breaking the law). We also changed the traditional recipe to better reflect the tastes of our family – we used peanuts and dates instead of walnuts and raisins, and just decorated the outside with candied fruits. We had a special ceramic bowl to let the dough rise in and special loaf pans to bake it in. As I remember it, my mother’s loaves were always rich and well-risen.
One of the first Christmases after I had left home, I decided to take up the mantle of making the Stöllen. I didn’t have the special bowl and I had to call my mother to get the recipe. I had neglected to pay attention in Home Ec about how yeast needs to be added to warm water in order for it to work at all. I set about constructing the Stöllen and waited for it to double in bulk. It never did. It has taken me years to live that down. Now I know about yeastie-beasties and make sure they are in suitable environment to reproduce so that I can enjoy my bread!
I am now at the age and stage where the anticipation of the holiday is dampened by the fact that those I grew up with and celebrated with have passed away. I still put up a Christmas tree and decorate the house, but I no longer am making Stöllen. The short-bread and fudge that were also a part of that tradition of baking reside only in my memories and some of my latent fat cells.
Nowadays, my traditions go more to listening to Christmas music and watching the classic movies like Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, and It’s A Wonderful Life. Travel during the holidays seems like a chore, so staying home takes on its own logic. Calling friends on Christmas Day is still part of the routine, as is hanging Christmas cards on ribbons and stringing them across my bookshelves. More and more folks are sending e-cards, so the display is getting smaller. Still, sending and receiving Christmas cards is a joyful activity for me.
But that task is still a few weeks off. This week I will re-orient myself to the calendar and acknowledge that this is the last week of November. It also marks the anniversary of my writing this blog. I have been posting for over a year now and have learned much about writing and sharing my thoughts and ideas. I am so very grateful for all of you who have read, shared, and commented on what I have written. I look forward to continuing this and staying connected with you as this year comes to an end and we begin the next one.
Thanks for reading!