Monday, December 24, 2012

Waiting for the Light

If I haven't mentioned it, I am Slovak on my Dad's side. Today, Christmas Eve, is one of the days that is chock full of Slovak traditions; many of which we are trying to pass along to our own children, partly because they anchor the day in religious symbolism and partly because I want them to have some idea of their heritage (even if it's watered down quite a bit).

1. The Dinner: the traditional Slovak meal is is our last quiet day of self-denial before we celebrate tomorrow. We have sauerkraut mushroom soup, Oplatki with honey, and peas. There are other parts to the meal but, for the time being, they are too labor-intensive (especially for me, since I don't really like those dishes anyway).

We will also have pirogi and shrimp for those who are joining us and don't wish to partake in the customary meal. This, I don't understand, since I remember vividly walking away from the table still famished every year (because I didn't want to eat the soup, etc.). This is the kindler, gentler me. Besides, all my kids are willing to try the soup so that makes me happy :0)

Soup! YUM!

The main themes of the meal are sweet (honey) and sour (kraut/garlic), representing the blessings and trials in life. The Oplatki remind us of the story of the Nativity and the blessing of Our Savior's birth (as well as the Eucharist). The peas are eaten, I think, because they are round and that's a big deal with the Slovaks. Truly, I must send an email to Fr. Peter (N's godfather in Slovakia) for more insight.

Here is a brief article about the meal...perhaps we should be going to the South Side and then I won't have to cook! Slovak Christmas

2. Money: This is two-fold and, since I can't find any evidence of it under "Slovak traditions" on the Internet, I can only guess that Bub's (grandmother) family held it as tradition in their village.

- When you eat the traditional Christmas Eve meal, the more money you have on your person, the greater the wealth you will have in the New Year. Seems crass, but you have to understand these people were peasants. I think we'll give the kids a small sum then let them "shop" at World Vision or some similar site, to use their money as a gift to help others.

- You aren't allowed to spend money on Christmas Eve. Now, this has all the trappings of being completely invented by my dad, although Bub also talked about it every year. I suffered the effects of this personally, since we took the long and winding roads to Pittsburgh, rather than pay the turnpike toll (see the previous posts on carsickness). Ugh. On the positive side, I love using this reason to get my shopping done really early. Having the "sorry, can't spend money today" excuse, really cuts down on pressure to day any last minute gift buying ;0)

3. Finally, there are NO LIGHTS on Christmas Eve! Well, there is some formula to this...I think you have to wait until you see lights in the neighbor's window before you can turn them on in your house. That became kind of a ridiculous game if you lived in a Slovak neighborhood, I suppose. Again, I'm not sure about the authenticity of this, I just know we grew up with the tradition. When Bub lived in an Eastern suburb of the city, highly populated by Jewish neighbors, the lights were usually on by 9 AM ;0)

My best guess, of course, is that we remain in darkness this day as we wait for the Light of the World on Christmas. That is why I like it. It seems to be fairly straightforward. Also, I have wonderful memories of everyone trying not to be the one who first turned on the light at our house (it was usually my mom, BTW). Having had 3 AM Adoration today, I am grateful that my husband left strategic lights on for me so that I didn't fall down the stairs on my way out this morning.

Also, you may ask, does a computer, TV, etc., count as "light". Yes, unfortunately, I think it does. So, I'm breaking my own tradition. I know that, as my children get older, I will say "no" to TV and computers on this day. I want it to be a day of gathering of family, eating of the traditional meal, and quietly waiting. We're almost there!

Blessings to you for a wonderful Christmas. May the Light shine in your hearts now and always.

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

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