Vol. 12, No. 3,009 - The American Reporter - October 19, 2006

Hominy & Hash

by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.

Printable version of this story

St. Simons Island, Ga. -- The holidays have evolved from a new beg= inning spiritually to a season of spirituality, the supernatural, the heath= en, the Gentiles, the Jews, the fantasy and the fantastic. And, of course, = the commercial.

There are places in the world where the birth of Jesus is so sacred= no one dares speak above a whisper and yet, here, the fanfare is deafening= .

Yet there are places in the world where the spiritual aura accom= panying the birth of the Son of God is so overwhelming no one has a notion = of frivolity, just awe.

Enough years have passed between my first understanding of Christma= s and the season to how it is seen through the eyes of thoseI've met along = the way.

For example, in the high school I attended, there were as many Jews= as Irish; as many Jews as Italians. And yet, the Irish and Italians, Cath= olic all, doubled the amount of Jews. This was never brought up in any con= versation -- ever. Christmas pageants were performed, Nativity plays were = staged for Assembly and Jesus, Mary and Joseph were the featured players ..= . often starring Jews in the parts.

That's the way it was. It was not prejudice. It was the way it wa= s, no more. The Jews celebrated Chanukah in the privacy of their homes and = at Temple. At public school in a predominantly Christian society it was, we= ll, you know, "when in Rome...."

Somewhere down the road, long before Madeline Murray O'Harestirred = the melting pot, things changed. I believe it would be at thetime of Dr. Ma= rtin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement that "blackis beautiful" bec= ame the catch phrase. Following that, Polish history,Black History Month, e= thnic pride took America by storm.

We no longer were American without the hyphen. We are Irish-America= n, Italian-American, Polish-American, African-American. No question that w= e are all American, but our heritage is very important. It was not always t= hat way. When boats landed, the old country was left behind. And yet, the = songs, the recipes, the easy banter within the walls of home created a natu= ral pride in family -- and in the new country adopted as our own.

It wasn't until 1964 when my oldest son went to nursery school in t= he basement of the local Temple that I learned how little I knew -- and, h= ow much of the tradition of Judaism was the same as my own. Jack came home= with a menorah, the six-candle candle holder so significant to the Jewish = experience.

Along the way, we lost the awe of Christmas, the warm delight of it= all. It is sacred and at the same time, profane. We yearn to link oursel= ves to our great-grandparents, now long dead, but still part of us in the u= nbroken chain of family.

And, still we try. Some of us groan over the approaching holidays.= Some of us brag that shopping was completed in August. The traditions hav= e turned into "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Thus, last Christmas, as = the priest turned to the congregation saying "Go now, the Mass is ended, go= in peace," a hullabaloo from the outer lobby erupted and Santa Claus burst= upon the scene with a cake, aflame with candles, and a hearty Ho Ho Ho. I= t was Happy Birthday dear Jesus. And the children clapped and giggled.

We want to be children again. Back then, we knew, we really knew, = that no fat little bearded man could maneuver his way down a chimney, but w= e wanted so much to believe that seeing the missing Oreos next morning was = good enough proof for us. "Must have been here," Mama would say, "let's se= e if he left anything at this house." And he always did.

Our souls are hungry for the legend to be true. We want to berewar= ded whether we're deserving or not. We want so to be validated and if San= ta comes down our chimney, physically up to the challenge or not, well, we'= re good people -- and good for another year.

The entire response to the calendar of events this time of year, is= no different from our ancestors responding to rituals only slightly differ= ent from our own. There are recipes handed down, not always in our own fam= ilies but shared with co-workers and neighbors. Does it matter whether it's= my grandmother's Scottish shortbread or yours? If it's what they ate, we w= ill we eat it, too.

Does it matter whether we bake it or Sara Lee? Not one whit! It's = Christmas, and anything goes. It's tradition. But, we don't have time. We= want it to resemble the picture post cards but it's a free for all on Chri= stmas morning.

And then, after all the groaning about "never getting it done," the= season arrives. If it's Channuka, candles are lit, a bush is decorated an= d presents appear each morning for 12 days. If it's Christmas, a tree in g= rand array heralds the birth of baby Jesus, resting in a cradle 'neath the = watchful eyes of Mary and Joseph.

In those hours we become the people we always wanted to be. Whether= we're celebrating just for the children or for some deeply rooted need in = ourselves, we have risen above the chaos of life and fallen to our knees in= appreciation and devotion.

And, all this happens when we're too busy to notice. All the rush = and the worry set us up for the moment when a child pokes his head up from = the mountain of gift wrap and rubble, asking: "Is this all there is?"

As you smile and nod to him, you say to yourself, how could I possi= bly ask for more?

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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