Tuesday, December 24: Our Christmas Eve morning tradition culminates at the Lebanese Taverna Market in Arlington, where we stop after visiting the Cathedral, to have a casual lunch of fried cauliflower (arnabeet), sambousik, fatayer b’sbanigh, fatayer b’jibne, stuffed zucchini, avocado salad, loubieh (green beans, tomato and whole garlic) and roasted potatoes with zaatar. We top these off with pomegranate ginger ales.
It’s always bustling in this market because the food is fabulous!!
It looks like a miniature supermarket, but there is a small deli counter and a cafe where we can sit and enjoy people-watching.
After we eat as much as we can eat, we head home to relax a bit, wrap the remaining gifts, clean up our wrapping mess, and prepare Children’s Delight cookies and chicken & apple sausage patties for tomorrow morning. Finally, we enjoy a glass of red wine before heading to my mother-in-law’s house for our traditional Christmas Eve gathering.
Tuesday, December 24: The annual crèche exhibit at Washington National Cathedral is an exhibit our family goes to see every Christmas eve morning. We’ve been going to see this exhibit for close to 20 years. The crèches show the story of Jesus’ birth as interpreted by cultures and customs around the world. I’m always amazed by the way artists use natural materials found in their environment to create these amazing nativity scenes.
For over 200 years, artisans in the south of France have been making clay santons, or little saints, as part of their elaborate nativity scenes. Santons provide a detailed look at Provencal culture in the hundreds of local rustic “types” of figures as witnesses of Christ’s birth, in addition to the traditional Biblical figures. Santons include people from all walks of life, regions of southern France, different occupations, and all socio-economic levels. All come to worship the Christ Child.
The bodies of the tall figures in this nativity scene from the Philippines are made up of thin rolls of newspaper bound together. Carved wooden heads and shredded abaca fiber or yarn hair are then added to complete the figures. The Christ Child lies in a manger elevated by two rolled paper supports. The headdresses worn by the wise men are secured by tiny nails.
This is one of my favorites; I love that the figures are made of newspaper! How wonderfully creative!
This carved wood nativity from Indonesia contains simple elegant figures. It centers on a wonderful manger where the Child lays with his hands on his stomach. He has no facial features other than a carved nose.
This large nacimiento from Peru is sculpted from wood and plaster and painted in vibrant patterns and colors which mimic the textiles created in Ayachucho, Peru. The Christ Child is seen as a mature child with curled hair, wearing a round-brimmed hat. He embraces a cross, His destiny. Mary is crowned with a silver halo while Joseph holds a red rose, a symbol of Mary. The wise men are dressed in native Andean garb, sandals and rolled pants and patterned cloaks or native caps with ear flaps.
I wish I could have opened the cabinet door to get a better look!
The nacimiento from Bolivia consists of soft sculpture dolls, made of cardboard and burlap and intricately embroidered. It was made by the Kunturi, a group of people who are physically challenged and who construct these as part of their therapy. The black condor, the native bird of Bolivia, is part of the scene.
This crèche depicts the traditions and cultures of Alaska. The figures of Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child sit within a lodgehouse, which is set on poles to store winter provisions. Mary is dressed in native garb, while Joseph is dressed as a Russian settler. On the roof is a star and a snowy owl with a halo rests nearby, representing an angel. One wise man is dressed in the oilskin of a fisherman and brings an Alaskan king crab; one comes in a kayak bringing fish; and the third is a musher, bringing furs on a dog sled pulled by malamutes. A little girl stands nearby playing a native stick game. The animals include a caribou, a walrus, a puffin, a moose, a polar bear, and the Alaskan state bird, the ptarmigan. Native plants are represented by the spruce tree, the fuchsia fireweed, which grows profusely along Alaskan roadways, and the Alaskan state flower, the forget-me-not. A totem pole completes the scene.
In this nativity from Arizona, the Holy Family is placed in front of a traditional house, called a hogan, which is designed in a circular pattern, symbolizing the land in the center of the four sacred mountains of the Navaho people. The Child is depicted on a traditional bed board and the Wise Men are depicted as Native American chiefs in full ceremonial regalia.
The pastel presipio from Italy is made of hand-blown solid glass with a distinctive iridescent finish. Mary, in pale blue, kneels with her hands folded. Joseph, in pale orange, stands with a staff and open arms. The Christ Child lies in a manger under a blanket with a sleek donkey and sheep nearby.
The figures in this nativity from Singapore are made from the trunk of the cinnamon tree, called kayumanmis. While the bark is ground into cinnamon, the trunk is ground into a powder and mixed with water to form a soft dough. The figures are then formed on a wire armature. The entire process takes anywhere from two and a half to fifteen hours, depending on the intricacy of the figure. This set was made by the Tay Guan Heng family, whose main occupation is making joss sticks for use in Hindu temples.
These are only a few of the many nativity scenes on display at the National Cathedral until January 12, 2014. They’re a marvelous reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.
Tuesday, December 24: Our family has a longstanding tradition of visiting Washington National Cathedral on the morning of Christmas Eve. We always reenact the same ritual, and our children, even though they’re grown now, insist that we don’t change one aspect of it. Even while I was gone for the last three years in Korea and Oman, the family continued on the tradition without me.
One of the main reasons we come on Christmas Eve is to see the annual exhibit of nativity scenes from around the world, which runs through January 12, 2014. This year’s exhibit, entitled “What Child is This,” is in the crypt (lower level), just outside the Bethlehem Chapel. I’ll write another post about the exhibit, to follow this one.
We always start our visit by walking through the nave and admiring the architectural sculptures, wood carvings, leaded glass, mosaics, artistic metal work, and other works of art, including over 200 stained glass windows. Most of the decorative elements have Christian symbolism or are memorials to famous persons or events.
The richly decorated Gothic-style National Cathedral, completed in 1990, sits on a landscaped 57 acre plot of land on Mount Saint Albans in Northwest Washington, 400 feet above sea level. By some measures, the Cathedral is the sixth largest in the world, second largest in the United States. The top of the tower is the highest point in DC. The Cathedral is built primarily of gray Indiana limestone; some concrete and structural steel are used sparingly.
President George Washington disclosed a plan for the “City of Washington, in the district of Columbia” on January 4, 1792; this plan set aside a lot designated for “A church intended for national purposes, …, assigned to the special use of no particular sect or denomination, but equally open to all.” Though the original lot wasn’t used for the Cathedral, the site at Mount Saint Albans was chosen over a century later.
The building of the cathedral finally started in 1907 with a ceremonial address by President Theodore Roosevelt.
We walk through all the chapels, including the Holy Spirit Chapel, the Bethlehem Chapel and the Joseph of Arimathea Chapel.
Iron door in the crypt
Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea
Chapel of Saint Joseph of Arimathea
Holy Spirit Chapel
Adam lights prayer candles
Mosaics in the crypt
the disciples as fishers of men
Adam, me and Alex
After walking though the main church, the crypt and all the chapels, we take the elevator to the seventh floor, where we can see views of Washington and the exhibit “Though the Earth Be Moved,” a look at the impact of the 2011 earthquake on the Cathedral.
view from the top
view over northwest Washington
view of the neighborhood around the Cathedral
The Cathedral has been the location of many significant events, including the funeral services of Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower. Its pulpit was the last one from which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke before his assassination. The Cathedral is the burial-place of many notable people, including Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, Admiral George Dewey, Bishop Satterlee and the architects Henry Vaughan and Philip Frohman (National Park Service: National Cathedral).
I’m so pleased to be back home again to celebrate the holidays with my family, after three long years away. Last year in Oman, I had to work on Christmas Day. 😦
Finally, we walk out to the grounds, but as it’s a freezing day and we’re all hungry for our lunch at the Lebanese Taverna market in Arlington, we head home to finish getting ready for Christmas.
In the gift shop, we find a bumper sticker which shares a great message for the holiday.