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Christmas Eve

December 26, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

In my post Gravy: A Thanksgiving Tale, I described my Thanksgiving experience helping Gail in the kitchen of the residential treatment center for women where she cooks on Wednesdays and Thursdays. This past Wednesday, Christmas Eve, she cooked lunch and dinner as usual. We — Gail, me, Jessica, and Joel — then met at a nearby Mexican restaurant in Seattle for our Christmas Eve dinner so that we could be back at the residential center in time for an evening program the director had asked Gail to run.

In preparation for the program, separate from the regular meal preparation, Gail had baked four cakes at home the night before: two yellow cakes with chocolate icing and two chocolate cakes with white icing. She also heated a giant pot of apple cider with cinnamon and spice. On her return and our arrival at the center, we cut the cake and did the final organizing for the program, which began at 7:00 PM. About half the residents showed up in the dining/meeting room for the program, along with about a half-dozen young children and another couple of babies. (The residents are all either mothers of young children or pregnant. Part of the center’s purpose is to provide them with skills to be effective parents.)


Gail designed the program to be simple, ecumenical, and brief, acknowledging the day and the season but not prolonging the occasion. There were three parts: a Chanukah observation, a Christmas Eve celebration, and social time with the serving of the cake and cider. For Chanukah, Gail had brought in one of our menorahs. She told the story of the Maccabean revolt against Syrian rule in Judea in the second century BCE, culminating in the Chanukah miracle — the oil in the temple lasting for 8 days — which leads to the observation of the 8 days of Chanukah and the lighting of the candles. We then lit the candles representing the fourth day of Chanukah as I sang the two candle-lighting blessings. In the background, Chanukah songs played on a little boombox, from a holiday mix CD that Gail had prepared the night before.


Next up was the story of Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ, with Joseph and Mary returning to Bethlehem for the census and Mary giving birth. After Gail told the story, we distributed candles for everyone to hold, formed a circle, turned off the lights, and lit the candles counterclockwise around the circle while Silent Night played on the boombox and those who wished to sang along. Gail made brief but poignant remarks about the women having come to the center to change their lives, to choose life, for themselves and their children. We then turned the lights back on, blew out the candles, and let the music play on as cake and cider were served.

It was an evening of strong and mixed emotions, or at least that was my sense. As I wrote in my earlier post in the context of Thanksgiving, clearly this is not the Christmas of any resident’s dreams. Yet it may be better than the alternative. And it is Christmas within a community that addresses their needs. I felt privileged to be part of it.

Categories: Family, Life
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