by Paige K. Slighter
As Christmas draws near, we commemorate the birth of Jesus. For many, this jubilant celebration is observed with family traditions. These beloved practices are gifted from generation to generation, linking past and present. Although Nana passed a decade ago, her legacy lives on as her great, great grandchildren experience the joy of baking her famous Slovenian nut rolls. The rich aroma of butter, honey and pecans folded in dough wraps the family in a warm embrace, as if Nana never left.
Special Christmas traditions are faithfully preserved not merely as ritual, but to maintain the bond of togetherness. Christmas in Nigeria is a sweet union of loved ones and rich tradition. On Christmas day, the children receive new vibrant clothing from their parents and frolic from house to house visiting friends and family. Money is exchanged as the customary gift as well as delicious food. One crowd pleasing dish is a flavorful stew made from tomato, pepper, and dried fish served with boiled yams and rice. When Christmas ends, the fellowship and merriment continue, spilling into the New Year.
Here at Woodland Hills several families had heartwarming stories to share about their Christmas traditions.
A Box Full of Memories
Every Christmas, Elise Weinberg and her mother Gretta hand select a fresh Fraser fir or balsam tree to adorn with baubles and trinkets from the 1960’s. For decades, mother and daughter carefully unwrap each ornament and delicately place them on green boughs. Each time they are reminded of their family coming together and the memories shared. Perched on top of the tree is Elise’s favorite ornament, two doves. One is missing his beak and the other lost some feathers, regardless she adores them just the same. When the Christmas season ends, Elise and Gretta gingerly store their memories back in boxes preserving them for the next year.
A Labor of Love
Year after year, Fritz Kinney (Woodland Media Director) and his family gather in the kitchen to decorate a different kind of tree, Kransekake. It’s a Norwegian dessert that, when successfully executed, resembles a Christmas tree. Kransekake, directly translated “wreath cake,” is made up of ground almonds, sugar and egg whites and formed into rings. When baked to perfection, the rings are delicately stacked creating a concentric tower. Fritz learned how to make Kransekake from his Norwegian mother, Sidsel, who passed away five years ago. Every year, he uses her hand-typed recipe to create a nostalgic masterpiece. This confection is truly a labor of love. Half a pound of raw almonds must be boiled, their skins removed, and dried- but not roasted. Then a half a pound of unboiled almonds must be finely ground. In her recipe, Sidsel adamantly expresses to her children, “a food processor must not be used.” These almonds must be crushed in a hand-crank nut grinder. Then the two almond flours are mixed together with sugar making a paste-like dough. This is kneaded, refrigerated overnight, and later rolled into rings. In order to achieve the ideal texture (hard to the touch, yet soft and chewy), each ring is baked for 8 minutes exactly– no more, no less. The rings are then stacked with sugar icing in between each layer to create a delicious work of art.
Operation Pancake Mix
Osheta Moore (Woodland’s Outreach Pastor) and her husband T.C. started a Christmas tradition with their three children (Tyson, T.J., & Trinity) ten years ago to illustrate generosity in light of God’s love. They asked their kids, “Who do we want to give to before we receive?” The idea was to bless others before opening their own presents on Christmas day.
From there, they made a list of families and individuals who would not be with their loved ones on Christmas day. They contacted each and asked if a breakfast delivery would be welcome. This breakfast consisted of a bucket of pancake mix with their choice of toppings (blueberries or chocolate chips). For those who were gluten free, they offered hot cocoa with marshmallows. If there was a particular family or an individual experiencing financial difficulties, a slab of bacon would be provided.
In the beginning, the kids were pretty young (6,3,2), so Osheta created a short story and a scavenger hunt to get them excited about giving. Every year the theme was different (spies, ninjas, angels, fairies), but the message remained the same. Those receiving the meal participated in the scavenger hunt and were briefed on the theme one week before Christmas. Each of them received a small package with a clue and a short devotional to read together. It was their job to post something on their front door to signify a clue for the kids.
On Christmas day, the Moore kids would wake up and hop in the car, still in their pajamas, to deliver Christmas pancakes. The first year, they visited fifteen families. They would often make pit stops at people’s homes chatting and swapping treats. When they lived in Los Angeles, pancake deliveries sometimes stretched out over multiple days because the driving distances were so long.
As the children have grown older, “Operation Pancake” has grown with them. Now that they are in their teens (16,13,12), they no longer read a Christmas story or follow clues to each home, however year after year they still deliver pancakes. This Christmas, they will be delivering pancakes to Esther Families, a ministry that supports women and their children.
In South Africa there is a philosophy of life called ubuntu. Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained the concept by saying, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. We say, ‘A person is a person through other persons.’ It is not ‘I think therefore I am.’ It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong.’ I participate, I share.” As we come together at Christmas time and observe cherished traditions, we are living out ubuntu. Not everyone has Christmas traditions, but no matter the celebration the concept of togetherness remains the same. Plus, it’s never too late to start something significant for the sake of unity. What a wonderful way to commemorate the One who was born and died so we could be one.