Write On!


In Responses on December 8, 2011 at 7:00 pm

By Jennifer Strange

Walk to her front porch and you can smell the season: sugar cookies, cardamom bread, gingersnaps, beef stew like her mother made, peanut brittle, fudge sans nuts, divinity for her father-in-law, pumpkin bread, fruitcake with generous amounts of brandy poured over it for days. Walk in and she won’t let you touch a thing. Not until it is time.

Melded recipes from the distaff and the spear, and some of her own creation: her mind is quiet when she bakes.

Remember how white-haired Grandma taught us the beauty of a well-set table. Hers is the fruitcake. Remember how gray-haired Grandma taught us the tenderness and tenseness of family gathered. Hers is the peanut brittle. Remember how Pa learned to bake in his retirement. His is the cardamom.

Maybe one year we will learn to bake only and not to give so many gifts, but we do love giving the gifts. Go from person to person and keep the ritual of caring for the paper. We delight in the imaginations and the individual attentions. All of the gifts are for all of us.

The stockings, which our grandfather needlepointed, will hang around like so many well-crafted witnesses. The angels so sing their chorus. The nativities birth new Christs every year and fill more shelves and corners. Garland, ornaments, candles that smell of pine: it’s everywhere.

“Cold hands, warm hearts,” Grandma would say with conviction. We have the hearths, the pockets, the central heat, and what of those who do not? Yet our hands always seemed cold reaching to the dough, the gift, the deck of cards, the stranger.

We will set the table together. Then we will have a cup of tea and play as many rounds of bridge as the men will permit. We will wear our socks thick to shield against the frosty air. We will encourage the children to blow out rather than sniff in.

For we are sick flesh, hungry for cranberries and sweet potatoes and resurrection. The creation groans for the new creation, and we celebrate its sure coming with every annual ritual that remembers the Incarnation—that first down payment for the complete renovation to come. We tell the same stories and observe the same liturgies year after year because all the smells and shapes of yesteryear help us rest in our busy skins. We long yet for the full presence of God in his own creation.

So come to the door and smell the simple holy rites of baking and crafting. Will he come again during this turn of the dough? First one thing and another, we busy ourselves with the making of home until he does. We call it home when the decorations take us to festivity, when the table calls us to gather, when the season lifts us out of ourselves to mystery.


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