In this world of changing pronouns, anticipated environmental crisis and feared unsustainability, there is still something to be said about traditions. Call me old-fashioned, but I clearly see the reasons for that. For we, the people of Eastern Europe, have been to the dark side. How did the oppressed nations survive decades of brutality? By clinging to centuries-old traditions. Many may frown upon such frivolities, but I have learned to cherish them.
During the long-gone days of my childhood, Christmas was a time of wonder. Sounds and smells, decorated shop windows, lineups for bananas and oranges, planned family get-togethers, the feeling of anticipation everywhere, and the hope for snowflakes on Christmas Eve – I loved everything about it.
What was more amazing was the fact that even during the harshest years of oppression, the rulers were powerless when it came to Christmas. As the brainwashing went on at the government ran schools, and the teachers declared that religion was obsolete, and our society evolved past such superstitions, every child was excited about the Baby Jesus delivering presents on Christmas Eve. We might have not understood the doctrines of salvation, but we all knew Jesus was coming.
And there were the cookies. That part of our Christmas was almost as unbelievable, as Santa himself. The endeavour commenced weeks prior to the holidays, as all the cookies were required to rest, before they were presented to the appreciative audience. The women would stand in long lines to secure the ingredients and discuss how many kinds they were planning to bake. The competition was on.
So, this year I have decided to take a couple of my friends up on their offer and bake. And bake we did. Forty pounds of flour, 60 eggs, 25 lbs of butter, and of course sugar. We have lost track of the poundage somewhere by day two. Nuts, cocoa powder, Bakers chocolate – well you get the idea.
The three of us agreed on a November date and marked it in our calendars. Let me clarify. We blocked off four days, silently wondering if we were overdoing it – just a tad. But none of us had the heart to disappoint the others, so collectively we stayed silent about the ambitious quantity of baked goods and went on with the plan.
Do you know what happens to women who voluntarily commit to spend several days together in a kitchen, mixing dough, cutting out shapes and watching the oven timer? They start to talk. I suggested we shared our favorite Christmas memories. One story entailed an exploding whipping cream canister and the fresh beard on father’s face. And then the tears appeared. Being five thousand miles away, smelling vanilla baked into the family favorite recipes, the memories shared – no wonder some of us got homesick.
Several hugs later, the conversation turned to kids, slowly approaching adulthood, and all the drama that brings, then husbands, working hard, and far away. The troubles with employers, employees and co-workers, the price of gas and groceries, the traffic and the health issues. And then, faith.
By day four, our arms and backs aching, we started to box our little creations, and realized there will be plenty to give away to friends and neighbors. I looked at our stash and wondered if there was a way to wrap up the shared experience as well.
Community has become a trendy word in the past decade and that says something about our society. We crave togetherness. Visiting a Lutheran church this Christmas season I caught a glimpse of the ties that bound the aging, traditional congregations together.
A headline that came through my Facebook feed declared that 75% of young people past age 15 leave their churches. I guess once the drivers license comes along, the parents lose their leverage. But what most of us fail to see is that the congregations of old were the communities we so crave now.
The silent consensus says that Christianity had fallen out of fashion. But has it? We need people around us. People who share our values, our history. People who understand us and are willing to block days off their calendar to simply hang out. We need friends who open their hearts to us, and in turn make it safe for us to open ours. We need our peeps, our community, our brothers and sisters, to laugh with, to cry with, and to bake old-fashioned cookies with.
Nostalgia goes hand in hand with Christmas. We think of those who are far awa