the real gift of the holidays

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Amongst my clean home I set out to make a mess.  The youngest son emerged from the man cave, aka computer den, snapped the above shots and asked, “Mom?  Do I have to paint these trees?”  When I answered in the negative he was surprised.  It used to be that most holidays I would concoct some type of craft for my children to do.  Each holiday has its own set of decor and it is this son that enjoys changing the theme.  His most favorite season is Christmas; particularly decorating the tree.  When I looked up he still remained, quietly watching.   I explained that I was helping a group of moms create Christmas crafts to sell at our school’s holiday boutique in early December.  The sale proceeds benefit my middle son’s entire sixth grade.

In exactly 30 days I will be hosting Christmas eve and my mind began to whirl.  Where has the year gone?  It seems I’ve skipped over Thanksgiving and so I am reminding myself to count my gifts.  I am counting to 1000 but I’ve got a ways to go.  What am I going to serve?

131124 lovely bars#350.  7 Layer Lovely Bars (Ann Voskamp’s recipe).

One of my favorite things about this time of the year is the fellowship of family and friends around food.  I stood next to the barista as he ticked off all of the things he despised about the holidays.  The focus on material things.  The fake family that tries to appear happy.  He believes that people should celebrate with one another as often as possible; throughout the year.  I nodded my head in agreement as he frothed my foam; his list brimming forth.  It was in the silence as he handed me my cup that I answered in return.  My favorite thing about the holiday season; food.  To this the barista had no answer.  He could not refute this statement and begrudgingly agreed.

I say this with a grain of salt (ha, ha…no pun intended).  Most days cooking is a chore but during this season I happily hum.  I get a bit overextended as the holiday approaches and wonder, amongst a kitchen cluttered with mixing bowls, flour and sugar WHY I go to such lengths to make these consumable goods as gifts.  Both sides of our families have diabetics while others watch their weight.  The holidays become stressful trying to accommodate their needs and I, being genetically predisposed, also watch my intake to avoid their fate.  The motto, you can eat anything as long as it’s in moderation, tends to go out the window.

One year, as I sat at holiday family tables gorging on everything in-sight, I stumbled upon something important.  When I learned to create these meals, on my own, I lost the desire to gorge.  It was the comforts of food, the direct relationship to my family and my past, that made me eat this stuff in large quantities.  It was only during this time of  year that I could enjoy this fare and I rapidly consumed it; thinking it made me merrier and loved.  The realization that I can create these same foods, whenever I wanted, released me.   I no longer worry that I’ll overeat.  Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy the meals others make; there is no greater joy than having your favorite food made just for you.   But now I can enjoy the holiday fare, guilt free in small quantities because I can re-create them should I crave them.  The passing of recipes from one generation to another helps me honor those before me and to share with those to come.  The food becomes symbolic of: my heritage, my faith, my tradition.

But it is in the conversations and interactions that have forged the person I have become.  This is where I learned the art of hospitality.

As a young girl I assumed that when I grew up to be who I wanted to be; that I would learn the rules of adulthood and parenting.  It seemed so black and white and natural.  Someone would teach me these things; just as in school.  It would be easy and intuitive.  While I painted trees I considered this; thinking of the ingrained lessons and unwritten rules that I hold sacred.  My education was taught to me in school.  My faith was taught to me in church.  But the person I am was taught in a kitchen and around a holiday table.  Serving.  The art of hospitality.  With the passing of my mother and my late cousin I, unknowingly, became inhospitable.  It was these two people who taught me the importance of this art and, with their passage, I had buried this with them.    This is really the gift I have overlooked year-after-year.  I only realized this Friday as the hubs and I left a grocery store.

131124 adThis has been eluding me; taunting me…my disinterest in being hospitable.  The bah humbug hubs lamented the cost of food whilst grocery shopping.  We were arguing over $0.69 whole fryer chickens!  I could feel the fury beginning from within and, in the confines of our car, he realized his mistake.  For all of his bah humbug-ness it is HE who is the hoarder; the miser.

10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  This too is meaningless.” ~ Ecclesiastes 5:10

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. ~1Timothy 6:17-18.

Our grocery store had run out of these fryers and the butcher told us to return the next morning after the delivery truck came at 8:30 AM.  Apparently the commercialism of the holidays, for the hubs, included food consumption.  I knew he was frustrated about the lack of poultry and the turkey.  But it was here that I drew my line.   His reasoning is the antithesis of the values I am trying to establish within our family.  To give generously.  Humbly. Divorce statistics rate arguments over finances as the most common reason people separate.  Infidelity came after this cause for separation.  This is where the Republican hubs reiterates his party stance to I, the Democrat.  I am to provide a surfeit of food and drink.    For us alone.  Why should we host Christmas eve?

And so the hubs heard me roar.    I know this weighs heavily upon him; the one who shoulders the weight of providing.  It is this, the ability to provide, that gives most men their worth.  And he is a good provider.  Some men like to accumulate the toys and items that show their monetary value.  Others have to maintain vanity; the looks and physique.  But this does not show one’s true worth; the person within.  I know my hubs has a heart of gold but maturity has made him jaded.  He fears the day he will not be able to provide; worrying endlessly.  He talks of ObamaCare, deficits and growing debt.  But our family has medical insurance, a business that provides just enough, a home.  It is this worry  that does not allow him to enjoy the present every day.  To appreciate the things we do have.  And it is this that my sons see and understand; the unwritten rule that the male must provide and accumulate wealth.  This learned trait stems from their father.

Ironically enough, the fryers were being provided for a fellow male who recently broke his wrist.  The hubs relates to this man who, like himself, shoulders a business to provide for his family with worries for the future.  Should something happen to either of them, how would our families make it?  When he discovered this friend’s plight he was reminded of the green light military tradition.  In the military a green light is coordinated for a higher ranked officer; a welcoming gesture.  When called upon the person must give the green light.  If it is given; the crew appear at the door; drinks-in-hand.  It is normal for women to come together to create meals for a: new mom, a widower or just a fellow family in need.  It is quite rare for a group of men to do this amongst themselves.

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Thus, on Saturday morning at 9 AM we walked out of this same grocer with $100 worth of meat: a Butterball turkey, a rib-eye roast and four chicken fryers.  It took less than 24 hours for the hubs to readjust his thoughts and he had no problem forking out the money.  The fryer was the culmination of holiday dread building within his mind: the commercialism, the materialism, the debt.  And as he sat amongst this group of friends, that night,  he was affirmed.  Each male brought a food item to share as they commiserated, drank and vented.  Most guys nights out these males sit around a TV, rarely talking, engrossed in a movie.  This talking time was a gift; away from the to-do lists, work and parenting obligations placed upon them.  The food was merely an excuse to get together; not for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  But just because.

I had thought I was teaching my husband hospitality but, in actuality, we are teaching each other.  In opening his pocketbook he allows me to rediscover the hospitable wife I long to be.  This holiday season I am most appreciative for this gift.  #361.  Rediscovering food and hospitality just in time for Thanksgiving, Christmas and every day.

My door is open, my oven on.  My crafts are done and I am ready.  Bring it!

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