Advent Memories

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Three of my kids in front of the statue of the Blessed Mother at St. Joseph School

I’m a Catholic school veteran—16 years all told.    I sent my three oldest children to the same parochial grade school I attended.  Catholic schools have Religion class every day along with Math, English, and Social Studies, and that’s great—but what’s even better are the little ways in which faith is part of EVERY class, the way that it can be talked about or brought to life at any moment.  Even more than actual religious education, this to me is the gift and the value of attending a Catholic school.

At this holy time of year—and by “time of year” I mean Advent, not Christmas—my thoughts always turn to early December mornings at St. Joseph School.  The whole school went to Mass every morning—our sanctuary revealed by the opening of a curtain, our pews a cafeteria full of folding chairs.  And afterwards we filed out—all 200 of us—and gathered in the front hall of the school.

I remember mornings as darker in those days.  Certainly they were colder, and with wall radiators providing the only heat we shivered in our red cardigans.  But what happened on those Advent mornings was a source of light and warmth to me.

There was—still is—a little elevated area next to the office, full of rocks (that we were forbidden to play with and always did), with a statue of the Blessed Virgin in the middle.  During the Advent season, Mary was joined by a tree, a cedar tree I believe, that served as a Jesse Tree during Advent and, briefly, as a Christmas tree right before the winter break.

Jesse was King David’s father, and Jesus was descended (by adoption) from David’s line.  The Jesse Tree custom involves the hanging of a different ornament on the tree each day, and the reading of a Bible verse.  The ornaments and verses tell the story of Jesus’ ancestors and foreshadow the coming Messiah.  The way I remember it, the first one every year was a stump, and the verse was something like, “A new root springs from the stump of Jesse.”

One of the big girls (in my memory they are adults, even though now I realize they were just little girls, eighth graders) would hold up the felt ornaments for all of us to see as the verse was read.  Then Sister Janice (our principal) would start one of the Advent songs—The King of Glory, On Jordan’s Bank, or O Come O Come Emmanuel.   We all knew them by heart.  And we’d walk slowly back to our classrooms, singing as we went.

I don’t know how everyone else felt about it, but to me it was magical.  I looked forward to it every year.   So when my three big kids were little, we cut out and colored our own Jesse Tree ornaments.  For many years, we hung an ornament on my favorite house plant each evening before supper.  We lost the ornaments when our house burned down, but Lorelei and William willingly colored a new set  so that we could continue the tradition for years to come.

This post originally appeared on my friend Lacy’s blog.  If you are looking for Christmas gifts, you should check out her handmade necklaces here.

 

Let the Preparations Begin!


That’s my counter, waiting for tomorrow.  We are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in several years, and I expect to be cooking all day.  I hope to have only the turkey to deal with on Thursday.
When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was so comforting, following the same pattern every single year.  We ate dinner at Mima’s at 2 p.m. and supper at Granny’s later on.  At Mima’s there would be turkey and giblet gravy; at Granny’s there would be ham and dumplings.  (And many other things too, of course!)
But divorce, marriages, kids, and deaths have intervened.  We’ve never really come up with a permanent Thanksgiving plan like we had back then.  Thus added to the stress of preparing for the holiday is the stress of deciding where and how it will happen.
We started hosting the dinner before we even had a house big enough to do it, with a table that filled the entire living room of our ratty apartment.  Once we’d moved to the Victorian house, which had a dining room made for that kind of thing, we were the natural hosts and we filled that role for a long time.  My sister and I took turns a couple of times once she had a house.  But for the past couple of years we have gone out to eat and then met later on for homemade desserts.
But if you are a parent you know that kids thrive on tradition and DEMAND that it be followed.  My kids have never approved of this going out to eat on Thanksgiving business.  So this year I am cooking again.
I’m making the turkey, of course (and I plan to document just how I am doing that for my post tomorrow),  the gravy (sorry, Mima, no giblets in mine!), the dressing (I’d like to try something adventurous but when I’ve added craisins or nuts in the past my family members have disapproved), sweet potatoes with marshmallows, mashed potatoes (something we added for John–we never had them growing up), pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and possibly apple pie if I don’t get burned out before then.  And I’ll also be supplying the tea (VERY sweet), the cranberry sauce (the kind that keeps the shape of the can only, please!), and the sweet pickles and olives (because Mima always had them).
My mother is making the rolls and the green beans.  My sister is making casseroles (she is big on casseroles and invents her own recipes) and her mother-in-law is (I think and hope) bringing a ham (I’m the only big ham fan in the family so we never have it; I hope she will leave me some leftovers!).
I feel like I am whining all the time but I do feel just a little melancholy about not having special china and crystal any more.  We used to set a beautiful Thanksgiving table.  That was John’s contribution and he always did a wonderful job.  He even did fancy things with the napkins.  Rather than even attempt to replicate that I think we will be more casual and do buffet style and sit wherever.  It is easier anyway–I used to get so worn out from serving all those plates that I was just about too tired to eat!
What about you?  What’s on your menu for Thursday? What Thanksgiving food can you just not do without?