Though I have not been Christian for many years, I love to decorate my house for the holidays. I have many decorations that I have collected over the years, including a Hummel angel gazing at the Christ child that was my father’s mother’s and a small crocheted Christmas tree given to me by my mother. My Christmas tree is a living one in a pot, and I usually manage to keep it alive on the balcony or outside for several years. One of my hobbies is collecting ornaments for the tree. Among my favorites are glass icicles and snowflakes crocheted by my friend Alexis many decades ago. There are white doves and brown birds that land on the tree branches and glass balls that have come into the stores again in recent years.
During the years I lived in Lesbos I was always invited to my friend Birgitt’s for a German Christmas Eve dinner with many of her friends. The meal began with fresh cured salmon (gravadlax) with dill sauce prepared by Swedish Christina, followed by meat and and all the trimmings—once it was wild boar and another time venison, but more often beef or turkey. I always brought a spinach salad with pomegranate seeds and special dressing from the Silver Palate cookbook. For dessert there was German Christmas cake called stollen made with nuts, spices, and candied fruit, covered with powdered sugar, as well as a variety of German Christmas cookies and chocolates. On Christmas day, I often went out to a restaurant on with other friends and feasted on Symrna style lamb stuffed with rice, raisins, pine nuts, and parsley, sweetened with orange juice.
Among my most treasured childhood memories are holiday meals at mother’s mother’s house. There were usually too many of us, including cousins and great aunts and uncles, to fit into the dining room, so tables were set up in the living room. We children ran around outside, and when we tired of that, played Canasta using many decks, as well Pig, Hearts, and Old Maid. The youngest children always lost. There were peacocks from the Arboretum calling from the roof and strutting around the garden. After a few hours the table was laden with scrumptious food, usually turkey, followed by mince and pumpkin pies. We listened intently when Great-uncle Emery told stories about growing up on the farm in Michigan.
A few days ago I was surprised when a friend remarked that she had no plans for Christmas and added somewhat dismissively that she didn’t celebrate Christmas. This got me to thinking.
My mind was drawn back to a post I had seen on Facebook a few days earlier.
I had re-posted it, adding, “I was lucky to have a mother who loved all of us kids very much. No wonder I continue the tradition of decorating the whole house for Christmas or for me now the winter holidays!” I was also lucky to have had a grandmother whose family gatherings provoke many fond memories to this day.
This year during quarantine in Greece, I was invited for lunch on the 24th by my German friends Barbara and Hatta in their new “bolt hole” apartment in Heraklion, which just so happens to be across from a bakery where I bought Christmas cookies, recorded as the reason I had ventured out of my home. My new American friends Jack and Angie and I had hoped to share a delicious meal on Christmas day, consisting of goat stew with rice, pork with potatoes, cabbage and lettuce salad, beets, greens, tzatziki, fava bean dip, sheep cheese, and dakos, Cretan bread with olive oil, tomato, and feta, but because the catering service was closed on the 25th, we met on the 26th. Although visiting friends is restricted to December 25 and January 1, we were able to meet because I fall into one of the few categories of people who can be visited: person in need (because of my cancer).
As Barbara and Hatta had laid the carpets that had been rolled up and standing in the hallway since I moved in June a few days earlier, my new apartment was warm and inviting and of course decorated to the “t.” We could not finish all the wonderful food that was delivered to us, but we saved room for Angie’s homemade tiramisu.
Christmas for me is remembering my mother’s and grandmothers’ love and enjoying good food with family or friends. I wouldn’t miss any of it for all the world. And I am so grateful to have have been able to celebrate this year despite the quarantine and my illness.
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who lives in Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent book is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.
Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.