christmas eve & christmas 2016

Saturday, December 24:  Mike, Alex and I drive on this overcast Saturday to the Washington National Cathedral for our annual Christmas Eve visit. We’re a small group this Christmas, as Adam is body-surfing at a beach in Maui and Sarah is hanging with her dad, his two pugs, her dog Bagel, her stepmother and half-brothers in Virginia Beach.

In the Cathedral’s nave, we admire an owl hidden in a Christmas tree amidst poinsettia and cranberry garlands, and columns decked out in red-bowed wreaths.  We crane our necks to admire the Space Window, celebrating the Apollo mission to the moon, and the three Rose windows and all the stained glass scenes that bring the stories of Christianity to life.

an owl in the Christmas tree
an owl in the Christmas tree
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral

I light a candle and pray for peace and love, for healing in our country after our divisive election and under our upcoming regime change, for the Syrian refugees and other people suffering because of war and famine and corruption, and for my children, who I hope will someday thrive. I also pray that I can find my quest, my own personal legend, in my life.  I squeeze a lot of hope into that one candle.

The Canterbury Pulpit depicts people and scenes relating to the Bible’s translation into English.  Stories for the pulpit came from Canterbury Cathedral in England.

Canterbury Pulpit
Canterbury Pulpit

We find the Pentagon Cross, made by Alvin Neider from fragments of the facade of the Pentagon after the attacks of 11 September 2001, in recognition that we are “united in memory, freedom, and faith, and in the hope of and love for God, our nation, and all peoples of the earth.”

The Pentagon cross
The Pentagon cross

We find HOLY CITY, a pilgrimage of sight, by Irish citizen Brian Whelan, a nine-paneled painting showing “a vision of unity amongst the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism.”  Says the artist: “The daily news is full of stories of faith against faith; a never-ending holy war and perversion of God’s love.  Wars, conflicts and acts of terrorism are often described with religious labels.  This is not a perspective shared by most people.  Across the faiths, we have far more in common that divides us.”

Holy City: a pilgrimage of sight by Brian Whelan
Holy City: a pilgrimage of sight by Brian Whelan

The artist says this doesn’t depict any one Holy City that exists in today’s world: “This is my aspirational vision of what a Holy City looks like.  Each of the canvases contain churches, mosques and synagogues, representing the Abrahamic faiths, painted in bright, playful and colorful forms.  An abstracted, disarming vision of cultural unity; living together in peace, acceptance and in harmony; a haven for the soul. … In this Holy City, hospitality would be offered to all pilgrims.”

For close-ups of the nine panels of Holy City, click on any picture in the tiled mosaic below.

In the Crypt level, we visit the Bethlehem Chapel, showing the genealogy and birth of Jesus, and the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea, telling the story of Jesus’ entombment following his crucifixion.

chapel
chapel
iron door
iron door
chapel
chapel

The main reason we come to the Cathedral on Christmas Eve is to see the crèches from all over the world.  We see nativity scenes made from natural materials found in Mexico, India, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, New Mexico, Arizona, Turkey, Uganda and others.

In the Jamaican nativity, the bodies are made of rolled woven mats with painted gourds for heads.  They are dressed in woven fiber and fabric garments.  The figures’ eyes are painted with touches of gold, which make them glow.  As for the Wise Men: one Magi is from Africa, one from Asia, and one from Europe, each wearing elaborate fiber headdresses that represent their home continents.

The bodies of the figures in the Singapore nativity are made from the trunk of the cinnamon tree.  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 2 1/2 – 15 hours, depending upon the intricacy of the figure.

Singapore - joss stick powder
Singapore – joss stick powder

Finally, a crèche made of wood 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 rests nearby, representing an angel.  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.

The Resurrection Chapel is decorated with colorful mosaics, portraying the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection.

mosaic
mosaic

Outside, we take some parting shots of the Cathedral and then drink coffee and tea in the gift-shop-turned-cafe, amidst steam, hissing and the chatter of other pilgrims.

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
St. Albans
St. Albans
me at the Cathedral
me at the Cathedral
a tree at the Cathedral
a tree at the Cathedral

The Bishop’s Garden is modeled on a medieval walled garden and features herb and rose beds.

Cathedral garden
Cathedral garden

On the way home from our visit, we stop at the Lebanese Taverna market, where we eat a smorgasbord of kibbeh, sambousick, fatayer cheese, arnabeet, loubieh, and fattoush. I pick up a few stocking stuffers at the market here.

Back home, after wrapping our remaining presents and preparing the chicken apple sausages for tomorrow’s Christmas brunch, we meet my sister-in-law Barbara and a friend of hers at Luciano Italian Restaurant and pizzeria for Christmas Eve dinner.

Though we’ve never done this in Christmases past, we attend my sister-in-law’s 8:00 church service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, where she sings in the choir.  We hear a wonderful and moving rendition of “Ave Maria” that brings tears to my eyes.

We spend some time at Barbara’s house for gift exchange and good cheer, and then return home, where we bid goodnight to our Christmas tree. 🙂

our Christmas tree
our Christmas tree

In the morning, in our typical Christmas fashion, we open our gifts one by one, and we have the same Christmas brunch I got from a 1992 issue of Martha Stewart Living and have been making for nearly 25 years (except the years I was abroad, when my family made the same brunch): Breakfast Frittata, Chicken Apple Sausages, Cheese Grit casserole, pancakes with cranberry maple compote, mimosas, and Barbara’s addition of a fruit salad with an orange sauce.

A good but quiet Christmas all around.

I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year in 2017! 🙂

december family affairs

Monday, December 7:  This evening, Mike and I took Adam and his friend Aeryn to dinner at Sakura Japanese Steak, Seafood House & Sushi Bar for Adam’s 23rd birthday.

Adam, Mike and me at Sakura Japanese Steakhouse
Adam, Mike and me at Sakura Japanese Steakhouse

We were having a fun time and everyone was upbeat until I mistakenly made a comment which upset Adam.  The evening suddenly became very tense.  I remember when Adam was about 4 years old; he threw a temper tantrum at his own birthday party because he wasn’t getting his way.  We had to put him in his room for a time-out at his own birthday party!  This kid is a tough one, but of course I love him dearly!

Thursday, December 24: On Christmas Eve, we have our family tradition of visiting Washington National Cathedral.  First we take a walk around the Cathedral.

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
the cottage on the Cathedral grounds
the cottage on the Cathedral grounds
looking up
looking up

It’s quite a warm today for Christmas Eve, but it’s also rather dreary.

After walking around the Cathedral proper, we walk through the crèches on display during every holiday season.  Below is my favorite, created by Zulu tribeswomen in South Africa.  Each fabric figure is almost completely covered with tiny, individually hand-sewn glass beads.  Even the zebra and lion come to pay homage to the Christ Child.

South African creche
South African creche

The Mexican beaded nacimiento was made by the Huichol Indians, noted in Mexico for the degree to which they have preserved their native speech, religion and culture.  The Wise Men bear gifts in the form of stylized flowers.  A tiny native frog also witnesses the holy birth.

The Polish form of nativity is called a Szopka and is traditionally associated with the city of Krakow.  Szopka makers utilize colorful candy and gum wrappers, as well as specially made foils.

The pottery nacimiento from El Salvador shows a small brown frog attending.  A tortilla maker, complete with her grinding stone is also present at the birth, as is a little shepherdess wearing a broad-brimmed hat.

The Jordanian nativity was created at the Aqabat Jaber refugee camp, then in Jordan. It features clothing that is thought to be similar to that worn by Mary, Joseph and the shepherds on that first Christmas Eve.

The Kenyan hand-carved crèche includes additions to the traditional animals of ox and ass, including an African antelope, and both a mother and baby elephant and rhinoceros, all commonly found in Kenya.

The Indonesian mahogany crèche was made by physically challenged people on the island of Java.

The Bolivian fabric nacimiento was made by the Aymaras and Quechuas Indians from the Altiplano region.  Each of the figures is wearing the native dress of the Bolivian Highlands.

After browsing through the crèches, we take the elevator to the tower where we have some sweeping views of northwest Washington.

the view from the tower
the view from the tower

We can see the Cathedral gardens below, so we take the elevator down and take a stroll through the gardens.

view of the Cathedral gardens
view of the Cathedral gardens

It’s plenty warm today, although a little damp.

After we leave the Cathedral, we always stop at the Lebanese Taverna Market for lunch. Then we go home to relax awhile, and finish any last-minute wrapping, before we go to Christmas eve dinner at Mike’s sister’s house.  Barbara loves to decorate for Christmas.  She still lives in her mom’s (my mother-in-law Shirley’s) house.  Though I was in China last Christmas, the first Christmas since Shirley died in July of 2014, this Christmas just wasn’t the same without her.  I really miss her.

Christmas tree at Mike's sister's house
Christmas tree at Mike’s sister’s house

We enjoy a wonderful dinner, eat lots of cookies and Barbara’s famous gold rush brownies, and exchange gifts.

Friday, December 25: On Christmas morning, it’s just Mike and I and the boys.  Sarah is spending Christmas at her dad’s house in Virginia Beach, so we’ll go visit her later.  Barbara comes over later for our Christmas brunch, also our family tradition.  I don’t know why I forget to take any pictures of us on Christmas day!

Our tree on Christmas morning
Our tree on Christmas morning
Close-up of the tree
Close-up of the tree

Wednesday, December 30:  We drive to Richmond to take Sarah her gifts and have lunch with her.  Then we go to visit my dad and stepmother in Yorktown, where we spend the night.

Thursday, December 31: Heading home, we drive up Route 17, a much quieter drive than I-95, to Fredericksburg. On our way back, we stop for lunch at Lowery’s Seafood Restaurant in Tappahannock, where I have crab cakes and Mike enjoys fried oysters.  Lowery’s is the restaurant where my mom and dad used to always stop for lunch when they came together to visit me in northern Virginia.  My dad doesn’t get up to visit us much these days as it wears him out too much to travel.

That was the end of our December, and a quiet end to 2015.  As a matter of fact, I was asleep by 10:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, snoring right through the New Year! 🙂

“what child is this?” ~ nativity scenes from around the world

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.

origin unknown
origin unknown
from Cameroon
from Cameroon
from Ecuador
from Ecuador
Honduras
Honduras
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
origin unknown
Ecuador
Ecuador
Mexico
Mexico

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!

Phillipines
Philippines

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.

Indonesia
Indonesia

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!

Peru
Peru

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.

Bolivia
Bolivia

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.

Arizona
Arizona

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.

Italy
Italy

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.

Singapore
Singapore

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.

Merry Christmas!  🙂

our christmas eve tradition at washington national cathedral

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.

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral

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.

the nave
the nave

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 nave
the nave
arches and stained glass
arches and stained glass
the pulpit
the pulpit
small altar in the main part of the Cathedral
small altar in the main part of the Cathedral

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.

Children's Chapel
Children’s Chapel
ceiling of the children's chapel
ceiling of the children’s chapel
outside the children's chapel
outside the children’s chapel
the choir and organ
the choir and organ

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.

poinsettia
poinsettia

The building of the cathedral finally started in 1907 with a ceremonial address by President Theodore Roosevelt.

over 500 year old tapestry of David and Goliath
over 500-year-old tapestry of David and Goliath

We walk through all the chapels, including the Holy Spirit Chapel, the Bethlehem Chapel and the Joseph of Arimathea Chapel.

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.

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).

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
National Cathedral
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. 😦

National Cathedral
National Cathedral
National Cathedral
National Cathedral

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.

the Cathedral gardens
the Cathedral gardens

In the gift shop, we find a bumper sticker which shares a great message for the holiday.

COEXIST
COEXIST
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