Thursday, December 24, 2009

Virtual Advent Tour 2009 -Christmas Eve Dinner

I was so excited about the Virtual Advent Tour that when I joined I asked to post twice, not once during the advent. In my first post I wrote about what advent meant to me when I was a kid. Today, on Christmas Eve, I will write about how my family celebrates this very special day.

Ever since I can remember, Christmas Eve has always been just as important as Christmas Day. The Christmas Eve dinner is to us what Thanksgiving dinner is to most of Americans, the time for the whole family to get together, to give thanks for the passing year's blessings and to also pray for what the next year's bringing.

Yes, you read that right, I mentioned last year and new year. That's because, as I mentioned in my first Advent Tour post, my family observed the laws of Roman Catholic church and Christmas Eve ends the liturgical year and begins the new year.

This very special night is full of anticipation, happiness and joyous thoughts as we wait for the birth of Jesus, the Savior. All day long everyone gets involved in preparing the house for the big dinner which usually takes place where the oldest family member lives. In my case, it was the house of my maternal grandparents and my grandma was the person in charge.

Let's concentrate on what we have for dinner first. There always have to be 12 dishes and the only meat allowed is fish. Everything else is non-meat. The tradition is for everyone to at least try, if not eat the full plates, every single dish or food that's served, because they all have a purpose. For instance, we eat a little bit of garlic to be outspoken for the next year or peas and cabbage for the strength (usually physical health). There is also no alcohol drinking until the Christmas Day. The thing that I have always thought to be the most important is that there is always an extra seat, with extra plate reserved for whoever might wonder in on this special night, a hungry, homeless person, someone who is lonely, a lost wanderer or maybe even a ghost of a family member who passed away and didn't find his/her way to the other world yet.

When do we start the dinner, you might ask? Usually the children go outside and wait for the first star to appear in the sky. It is a symbol of the Bethlehem Star that led the Three Wise Men to the manger where Jesus was born. When the star is up the kids all run back to the house yelling with excitement that it's time to start the dinner. I remember that it was very very exciting for me to stand outside and look up in the sky. Believe it or not, I don't ever remember a Christmas Eve where there was no star.

We all start the dinner with prayer, we then share Holy Wafer with one another wishing everyone all the best for the next year. It always very touching for me because no matter what the disagreements might have been throughout the year, on that one night we put them all away and try to start anew with only good wishes in our hearts.

The most exciting thing for me had always been the time after dinner when only children were allowed to go outside in a barn or stable (my grandparents were farmers and had all kinds of animals, sheep, cows, pigs, chickens) and listen to the animals try to speak in human tongue. We never did catch the animal do just that :) but we were children & children never give up nor disbelieve, so no matter that on one Christmas Eve we didn't hear animals talk because we would always return every year having faith that because the whole night was magical we might get lucky that time. Just because we didn't witness it, didn't mean it wasn't happening.

Last but not least, because I grew up in times where there was little to no money and really not much to buy in the stores either, even if one did have money (communism and socialism in Poland ended when I was 12 years old, so I remember a lot from that horrible time), there were no presents under the Christmas tree. And it was completely fine with the children, because we grew up truly believing that Christmas is not about the presents at all. As kids, we never felt at a disadvantage because we got no presents. Christmas Eve was a special, magical night filled with joy and happiness.