Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Simple Gifts and Traditions

My students and I enjoyed spending the month of December learning about how winter holidays are celebrated around the world. Closer to home, I find it heartwarming to see how friends and acquaintances celebrate holidays, which is something I love about social media. It brings us closer. So today I’d like to share a few snapshots of my own family’s Christmas traditions.

I’ll begin with the food. Our Christmas Eve tradition is very simple and dates back to when my children were younger and liked to set up the living room as a dinner-movie theater. They would arrange the chairs, plan the menu, and then of course I would make the food. Quite often, by the time the food was finally ready, it had become too late to actually watch an entire movie. However, that didn’t matter because the joy was in the preparations! So one year we decided to do a Christmas Eve dinner-movie theater, and it became tradition – one that was initiated by the children, which is probably why it is so meaningful to them. Though the menu varies somewhat from year to year, the mainstays are Spinach Balls and a vegetable platter that usually consists of cauliflower, broccoli, and grape tomatoes. This year, I tried out a few new recipes I found on Pinterest, and the Hot Corn Dip went over particularly well.

As far as the movies go, there are a number we’ve watched from year to year. Most years the lineup includes Scrooged and The Polar Express. This year we got a late start and only managed Scrooged.

My children’s father and I alternate spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day with them, and when the children were younger, it was anguishing to say goodbye to them Christmas morning when they left me to spend Christmas day with their dad. However, in time I came to prefer having them with me on Christmas Eve because of our dinner-movie theater tradition. Christmas day is spent celebrating with extended family, but Christmas Eve is our special time together with the kids when we have them. And when we don’t, we do it on Christmas night instead.

Here are links to some of our menu items:

    I also intended to make Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Garlic Aioli but ran out of time.

    Here is my recipe for Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, adapted from a recipe from Simple Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin (a recipe book given to me by my deceased uncle, whom I think of whenever I make it):

    Ingredients:

    • 1/2 cup loose sun-dried tomatoes (I use dehydrated tomatoes from our garden)
    • 3 tablespoon olive oil
    • 2 small garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
    • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

    Procedure:

    1. Steam the tomatoes in a vegetable steamer until soft, for about 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.
    2. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor, and process until smooth.
    *   *   *   *   *

    And now for the gifts. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m not much into buying presents; I prefer to make them. This year, my favorite gift to make and give was a very practical one. I made a case of canning jar oatmeal for my college-age daughter. She has such a busy schedule, between classes and part-time jobs, and usually doesn’t have time to make breakfast before leaving for the day. So I put together individual jars of quick oats, flax seeds, dried fruit (apple and mango), and a touch of brown sugar. All she needs to do is add boiling water to the brim, stir, put the lid back on, and let it sit for a few minutes – and remember to bring along a spoon! She can keep a couple jars in her car and have an instant meal anytime with a quick stop for hot water. She was thrilled because breakfast is such a challenge for her. I also threw in a jar of chai green tea bags to keep her warm on cold winter days.
    I also love to receive homemade gifts, and this year my niece and nephew gave us Christmas lights and potpourri in a jar. The heat from the lights warms the potpourri and makes the room smell nice. It’s beautiful to look at, too.
    We spent the afternoon and evening at my parents’ house, and probably the greatest gift (even though I tease her about it relentlessly) was hearing my mom play guitar and sing her favorite songs. She started taking guitar lessons a little more than a year ago at age 74 and now has 90 songs in her repertoire. It is her passion – just as nature photography is mine – and she practices for hours every day and often goes to hear live music at night. She’s getting ready to do open mike nights. My dad would love to accompany her on harmonica (although I’m not sure she’s agreeable to that, as she doesn’t like to share the spotlight) but for now seems to derive joy from listening to her. He always sits right next to her when she performs for us – and sometimes will do a little jig. He whistles, too, and we tried to cheer him on to do a whistle solo, but my mom was all business.

    After the concert, we all watched It’s a Wonderful Life.
    We live in a tiny, crooked home and most years only have space for a tabletop Christmas tree. We don’t have a lot of money or possessions compared to many, but we are blessed beyond belief compared to many others and always try to remember this. We have a roof over our heads, lots of love, plenty to eat, and this year we were not mourning the fresh loss of any loved ones. We deal with whatever dysfunction arises and make the best of it, feeling grateful for what is rather than diminished by how things could or “should” be. (This has taken some work but seems to be getting easier.) Simplicity works for us. And on that note, I’m going to suggest that my mom learn this beautiful Shaker hymn:
    SIMPLE GIFTS
    ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
    ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
    And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
      ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
    When true simplicity is gain’d,
      To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
    To turn, turn will be our delight,
      Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

    © Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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