One of my earliest and most distinct memories of the holiday season was Christmas dinner. My family lived on a farm in western Canada, and we were members of a Greek Orthodox Church located in our Ukrainian community. The occasion was always a combination of culinary, cultural and religious rituals and traditions. I still have vivid recollections of the wonderful tastes and smells.
On the day of our Christmas dinner, my mother spent a great deal of time in our large country kitchen toiling over a hot wood stove preparing for this special feast. When the chores were finally done, the cows milked, the eggs gathered and the wood box filled, everyone washed up and prepared to come to the table.
Mother had the radio tuned to a station that played Ukrainian Christmas carols. The room was lighted only by the candles on the table, and our best dishes were set out. A small amount of hay was placed under the table as a reminder of the stable where Jesus was born. When everyone was ready, mother directed us to take our places.
After we were seated, she opened her Bible and read to us one of the gospel’s renditions of the birth of Jesus. At the conclusion of the reading, we prayed together a traditional Ukrainian prayer. Then, finally, we began the meal.
The first dish was always cooked wheat in a sauce of poppy seeds and honey. For us, the first taste was an expression of gratitude, both for our daily blessings, represented by the grain that was ground into flour to give us our daily bread, and for the foretaste of the blessings of heaven, represented by the sweet honey.
Following this dish, there was roast goose with stuffing, pirogies (a kind of potato dumpling), cabbage rolls, vegetables and wonderful fresh homemade bread with hand-churned butter. For dessert there were varieties of sweet fruit breads; pies; and dark, homemade fruitcake. This fare was accompanied with a spirit of hope and happiness, of gratitude and joy.
Our memories of the past shape our expectations of the future. When the holiday season arrives, an array of emotions wells up in us. Images and memories flood our hearts and minds, triggering emotions of excitement and anticipation or—perhaps for some—melancholy and dread.
My early memories make me eager for the gathering together of family, of recalling our many blessings and the promise of Hope. It is a time of happiness and joy.
For those who have few, if any, happy memories of Christmases past, it’s never too late to create new ones. Invite family and friends to join you around your table. Take the time to prepare some of your favorite special foods.
When your family and friends arrive and you gather at the table, encourage each one to name some of the many gifts he or she has received during this year. Finally, take time to thank God for life and for the Hope that is renewed at this celebration. May this year’s experience create a wonderful memory that you will want to repeat next year.
Whatever your religious background or family traditions, it is my prayer that you and your loved ones have a wonderful and memorable holiday season and a blessed and safe new year filled with hope!
by Chaplain Ron Hyrchuk
December 21, 2006