So it's the holidays and as per usual I am following in my family tradition of putting up the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving.
The period of time leading up to Christmas has always been a magical time for me. It's somehow still magical even though I find myself very busy. I try to catch up a little with friends and enjoy the season even as I find myself sometimes consumed by at work.
Christmas and the season that surrounds it until New Years is a time of relaxing and reflecting in my world. I find that during the holidays one is faced by a myriad of emotions and thoughts. There are the obvious ones like "what a great time of year" or "Gee it's so festive and so great to see people". Family time seems better... for a moment. And things we alone have come to know and cherish, our own secret Christmas joys, are played out again for us like they are every year. Moments we have perhaps known since childhood or moments connected with a special place, time or person.
Then there is the darker side of the holidays. Time in the quieter moments when we all seek shelter from darker things that can come to light in a time that breeds reflection. Loved ones lost. Relationships not healed. Feelings of loneliness and isolation for some. Dreams not yet realized or shattered. Financial or work stress. Family drama. Kids and the challenges they can bring. Dreams of going elsewhere with no perception of how to get there. Realizing what you want and realizing what you don't have. These can be sobering and especially painful during the holidays.
Yes Virginia, these are parts of Christmas that no one likes to talk about. Is it any wonder that so many people find themselves in what the experts call a state of holiday seasonal depression. It takes what should be a lovely time of year and makes it painful and unpleasant for many people.
But I wonder if sometimes we are missing the point with Christmas. I mean what is this holiday really all about anyway. Certainly not eggnog and brightly wrapped gifts. Neither is it a time set aside for brooding over ourselves and selfishly delving into the dark and comfortable abyss we all like to settle into sometimes cause if just feels good, familiar and easy to do so.
Nope this holiday is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. That's it, that's all. It's not about celebrating with friends and family, giving gifts or any of that other stuff. It's about commemorating the birth or the mystery of the birth of the savior of the world as noted by the Christian religion.
Now that's a big idea. However, it's certainly not a coincidence I think looking at history that it coincides with the Winter Solstice celebrations from the older and more ancient religions of the world. Nor is it strange that the myth of a god being born to save the world doesn't only exist in the Christian faith. But is predated by many other faiths that held this belief. But regardless of where it came from or what traditions the early church adapted to make people more comfortable with the ideas of the faith it remains today a holiday that celebrates the birth of the baby Jesus.
Born in the cannon of belief to save all men and women regardless of color or race or culture or creed. A universal gift for all people. Now that's really a big idea. I had a minister growing up who taught that God's love is so boundless, all people will have the option to "enter into glory" should they choose. Also he taught that there is no action ever in this life that can separate us from God's love. It took me years to understand something of what that meant. I still don't always understand it. But I think of it this way. That essentially when it says in the bible,"That God so loved the world ( aka. us) that he gave his only begotten son that through him the world might be saved", that's what it meant.
So it was a gift or the concept of a gift that started all of this. Albeit a big gift, a divine gift it was simply a gift. Thus giving gifts at this time of year represent the larger idea of the gift of Jesus. That's lovely I think. Whether you are a Christian or not it's still "the thought that counts" and understanding why we give each other gifts is a good thing. We give gifts because we care about each other.
Which brings me back to what I like to do when faced with the dark side of the holidays. I like to give. Hospitality, gifts, parties, meals, and sometimes just my most important possession, my time. That's right my time. Something I can never get back. Something that I could choose to spend on anyone, especially myself. But I choose to give it to someone other than myself. In essence I reach beyond my own woes and find that in giving of myself I get more back than if I had just done something nice for myself. Sharing that time with someone else is my favorite thing to do.
Of course my way of doing that often revolves around breaking bread with other people. So this year as I put up my tree I invited a friend who does not put up a tree to join me for a tree trimming party. It was fun and we got to connect and talk about real things in real time. And she got to enjoy a little cheer that she would have not had otherwise. That's a small example but sometimes just being a listening ear or spending time together with someone you can give more than any gift could ever deliver. It's about loving someone. Cause love is a verb not an adjective.
So no matter what faith you might be as we go through this season lets remember that love is what it's all about. Giving love to those we know and maybe those we don't know. Certainly our country and our world could use a little love and some healing right now. People seem so set on hating. But Christmas is about love. Love that changes. Love that forgives. Love that uplifts. And love that is shared and passed amongst us all. They say that love is a gift. So if you are in possession of it realize you have something amazing that represents the core of what Christmas is all about. So think about that and share some cheer.
Here's a brunch recipe from my Tree Trimming party perfect for a holiday season morning, maybe even Christmas morning. It's fast and easy and it's very tasty. Enjoy Ya'll!
Truffled Polenta with Mushroom Ragout and a Basted Farm Egg ( for 6 )
What you will need:
1 8oz package of polenta ( yellow)
4 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper
2 pound mushrooms sliced
1 medium onion diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried Rosemary
1 stick butter
2 cups grated cheese ( I used half parmesan and half cheddar)
1 cup ricotta cheese
For the Polenta
Boil water and salt liberally
Pour polenta into the pot with a whisk stirring constantly until it thickens
Turn heat to low and cover pot stir occasionally to keep from sticking
When done add butter salt to taste, pepper, Ricotta , the grated cheese, and truffle oil to taste
For the Mushrooms:
Heat frying pan
Add oil and then onions then mushrooms some salt and pepper and the dried herbs and cook till softened
When ready to serve
Cook eggs as if you were making Sunnyside up eggs. When the whites have just started to firm up add a few teaspoons of water to the pan and cover for about 2 minutes, then serve over the polenta with a little of the mushrooms