Posts Tagged Christmas

The Holly and the Ivy

Hard to believe that Advent has begun and Christmas is just around the corner.  Certainly the commercial aspects of it are not on anyone’s mind here in Nkonya in Ghana.  Still, Advent was welcomed in last Sunday in the liturgical churches.

So here is a Christmas Carol for you- one which attempts to redeem culture,  and turn thoughts to the Christ child.


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Until January 6th

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In sickness, and in health, doesn’t just refer to marriage

We’ve had a number of Christmases in a row now where sickness was the major feature.  Five in all.

In some ways the first of them was the worst.  My father was suffering from a yet undiagnosed brain tumor.  My mother held together until the day after I came home from Africa, and then fell to pieces emotionally for the next month.  My brother who had lived with my parents for many years was, in addition to his usual difficulties, totally stressed to the gills by it all.  The Magpie was in Ghana.

The kids coped up to the crisis.  They bought gifts and stocking fillers, and drove down from Edmonton. They rented a motel room as there was no room in the family inn. They took me to see the Narnia movie, and we went to the Christmas Eve program at the church.  We drove around to see the Christmas lights to lengthen the evening a bit.

The next morning I got up at 5:00 and with gritted teeth said, ” We will do Christmas, regardless!” as I stuffed a large turkey for the oven.  And somehow we pulled it off for all.  Dad always did love a Christmas spread.

The next year my Father died on December 8th- just a handful of days after Mom was moved down from ICU, still with a tracheotomy tube in place.   They were one room apart.  Hospital regulations would not allow them to share the same room because they both had resistant staphylococcal infections.  I didn’t understand it.  But the staff were kind, hoisted Mom up in a sling, rounded up portable oxygen and wheeled her down to spend time with Dad. On his last good day they sat with her hand laid on his, drinking up each other’s eyes.  Mom was still in hospital over Christmas and longer.

The next year she lay in yet another coma on Christmas-after fighting back to eight pretty good months at home.  We had been keeping one person at her bedside around the clock for two weeks.  On Christmas day the kids took the early shift while I prepared the turkey and then for one brief hour, we pulled everyone from the hospital and all sat around the table together and ate. She died Boxing Day evening.

Last Christmas my brother had a crisis and was in the hospital for two weeks over Christmas.

This year no one died in December, or seemed about to die, or was hospitalized.

I shopped, and baked, and cleaned house.  Our daughter and her husband and little one were to come Sunday night.  The boys were expected on Tuesday.  Christmas was basically a pre-event because our daughter’s family had to travel on Boxing Day.

Monday, my son-in-law did indeed come down with a stomach flu the rest of the family had had earlier and we thought he’d dodged.

By Wednesday night my husband showed symptoms.

And on Christmas Eve, just after Santa had tiptoed around delivering stockings, first one son, and then the other, and then I, were hit  with the heave and trots bug. In a moment of calm, around 3:00 a.m. it was actually, “Just too funny!” Come Christmas the house resembled an infirmary littered with prone bodies and strategically placed ice cream buckets.  And indeed, Janet was left with preparing the meal.  She served it as late as possible and still there were loads of left-overs.  Personally, I didn’t even consider the option- just pass me another glass of ginger ale, will you?

We were together though.  Nobody complained.  And so far, knock on wood, my brother seems to be immune.

My son-in-law would be excused for wondering what he married into.  “Is Christmas in crisis the norm for your family?  Is this a necessary tradition?

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Christmas is a time of traditions, surely nothing unless “sex,” is so set about with customs designed to set the mood and make it happen.

I started thinking about this after reading a post on a blog I’ve been following.  Very evocative as he recalled a difficult time and a family tradition started then.

It encouraged me to comment back:

In our early years in Ghana we did not have a tree, though we did have a small one later that my mother-in-law brought out. It made it, fully decorated, to a couple of the High School Christmas pageants- and we stayed late because of the many who wanted a photograph taken in front of it. My foster son did not understand why something that lovely wasn’t also brought out to grace Easter.

But every year, treed or not, we set up our eminently packable Advent Wreath, and sang family carols around its light every evening of the season. To our children that is now far more central to Christmas than a decorated tree.

(We use purple candles for the wreath, other than the white one for the Christ child- a colour not always easily obtained. I had plenty in Ghana though, because once, in the early years when not much was available in stores I chanced into an establishment that had one long aisle given over to one kind of toilet paper, and another stocked entirely with boxes of purple tapers. Go figure. I immediately laid in a supply that lasted us for years.)

Every year, as we sang, one of the boys’ favourites was always:

So, I’m asking, “What makes Christmas happen for you?”

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Too awful not to post

A Politically Correct Holiday Greeting

Best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially
responsible, low stress, gender-neutral, winter
solstice holiday, practiced within the most joyous traditions of
the religious persuasion of your choice , but with respect for
the religious persuasion of others who choose to practice their
own religion as well as those who choose not to practice a
religion at all; plus… A fiscally successful, personally
fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the
generally accepted calendar year 2010, but not without due respect
for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions
have helped make our society great, without regard to the race,
creed color, religious, or sexual preferences of the wishes.

Disclaimer: This greeting is subject to clarification or with-
drawal. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement
any of the wishes for her/himself or others and no responsibility
for any unintended emotional stress these greetings may bring to
those not caught up in the holiday spirit.

from Robin Steele

p.s  Wishing you a Blessed Advent Season, Merry Christmas, and God’s richest blessings in the Year of our Lord 2010.

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Christmas Gerbils

This morning, at the pool, I overheard one of my fellow early-bird-swimmers announce that today was the day they were picking up the Christmas gerbils.

Memories clanged.  Once upon a time, as a grade twelve biology student, I developed an ambitious, but rather inept science experiment that involved sacrificing two rodents at the end of it for the purpose of making tissue slides.  I went out and bought two gerbils.  They turned out to be far too cute and interesting to sacrifice in the interests of  science, so I further invested in a pair of white mice for the purpose and kept the gerbils as pets.

Did you know that gerbils are hard to sex, and prolific breeders to boot?  If you provide a nice nesting arrangement- say one of those rectangular hot chocolate tins with the metal ends you can leave Papa Gerbil in with Mama and have an enchanting family arrangement where both parents enjoy raising and playing with their young.   If you take Mama out and the baby you left with Papa for company is in fact, NOT a male you would be surprised at how fast you can have another enchanting family to watch.

As the end of grade twelve approached it appeared I had not improved in my eyesight or timing. I was now housing  twenty Gerbils in three cages.  The cat spent hours watching the in-house entertainment. She was an excellent mouser and probably could hardly stand prey so close and yet so out of reach.  Once she took advantage of a makeshift cage with an insecure lid and caught one.  We were unhappy with her and she retreated under the living room couch aggrieved, staying  so long that my father finally got down on his hands and knees to  beg her to call it pax.

I found a home for two, but the little boys so terrorized them that the parents soon brought back the now neurotic young ones.

Finally the Shop teacher at the High School offered to take them all. I didn’t ask his motives or if he had a pet boa constrictor.  I just jumped at the chance to unload.

And so this morning I said, “Did I hear you say Gerbils?  They’re awfully cute, but by the way, they are hard to sex and easy to breed.  Oh yes, and don’t keep them in a plastic cage- they can chew out of anything.”

The young Mom, the kind of person who researches everything thoroughly,  assured me that they were getting two males, and a glass aquarium.  I wish them all the best.  I hope the sales clerk is knowledgeable.

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My Mother’s Shortbread

This afternoon I made my mother’s shortbread.

This is the real stuff: the-melt-in-your-mouth original. There is not a hint of cornstarch, or icing sugar, or flavour enhancement.

One cup  butter

One-half cup brown sugar.

Two cups flour.

Cream the butter and sugar until it looks whipped, and then stir in the flour until just absorbed.

Roll out.

Bake at 400 degrees, about seven minutes until just slightly browned, watching it like a hawk because it is a small recipe and you can’t bear to lose a cookie.

The queen of Christmas cookies, and my mother always treated it like gold, to be doled out through the Christmas Season in carefully measured numbers. Her shortbread container was not a cookie tin family members were welcome to dip into at will.

This afternoon I kept all the ritual.

Only make one recipe at a time-never double it.  Shortbread dough should not be overworked.  Halve the dough and roll out once (Not having my mother’s light sure pastry hand, I rolled it between waxed paper so no extra flour would be needed. )  Cut carefully into long strips and then diamond shapes with a sharp paring knife.   Move carefully to a lightly greased cookie sheet, without flipping.

They need no augmentation, but it’s Christmas so Mom often decorated her shortbread with a sliver of red or green glace cherry.  I did so this afternoon having made a special purchase of cherries for the purpose.

(Over the last year I had gradually snacked to finish the last of the cherries my mother had carefully hidden away in a back cupboard.  They had hardened to just short of sticky rocks, but with care I managed not to injure any of my teeth.)

Mom died on Boxing Day two years ago.

I think she would like to know that her shortbread is still being made with respect- after all, it contains a whole cup of real butter!

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