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! 🙂

chinese lantern festival: a holiday menagerie

Thursday, December 22:  It’s time to get into the holiday spirit, so I go with a friend to visit the Chinese Lantern Festival at Roer’s Zoofari in Vienna, VA.  Not only does the display get me into the holiday spirit, but it also makes me nostalgic for Asia, where I saw a phenomenal lantern festival in Seoul, South Korea at the Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival.

Here, we find 40 sets of over 800 hand-crafted lanterns made by a master of the craft in Zigong, China, the center of China’s lantern tradition.

gate to the festival
gate to the festival

The 2016 lanterns highlight ‘The Wild,’ including lanterns in the form of animals from around the world, including Africa, Antarctica, Asia, America and more.

Here is an whimsical display of jellyfish, reflecting beautifully in the pond.

jellyfish on the pond
jellyfish on the pond
jellyfish on the pond
jellyfish on the pond

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

We come across a group of lizards which seem out of place in cold Virginia.

I wish you all joy, delight, adventure, and LOVE during the holiday season and in 2017.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or just happy winter solstice!  Whatever or however you celebrate, I hope you’re surrounded by family, friends, and positive vibes.  Love and hugs to all of you!! 🙂

christmas eve

Tuesday, December 24:  We have another long-standing tradition of going to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve. She lives in Vienna, Virginia and on our way to her house, we drive past the most decorated house in Vienna.

an overly decorated house in a Vienna neighborhood
an overly decorated house in a Vienna neighborhood

My mother-in-law, now 87, is on oxygen and is very frail.  Known as Nana to our children, she used to cook a feast of ham loaf and scalloped potatoes and other goodies from her Ohio past, but she’s too frail to cook these days.  It makes me sad to see her in such poor health, and so weak, and such a shadow of her former self.  She still has a big heart, though, and her poor health won’t put a dent in that.

Nana and Alex
Nana and Alex

My sister-in-law, Barbara, does most of the work this year, getting a ham and corn pudding and green beans from Whole Foods.  She buys an array of cookies and decorates the tree and the mantel (along with help from my sons).  She goes all out on wrapping presents in the most elegant and exotic paper imaginable. This year she’s decorated the tree with bird and animal ornaments.

Bailey searches under the Christmas tree for goodies
Bailey searches under the Christmas tree for goodies

Here are a few shots of our family gathering on Christmas Eve.  Again, it’s been four years since I was home for Christmas, so it’s lovely to be with family again on the holidays.

weekly photo challenge: joy {christmas day}

Wednesday, December 25:  Having been away from home for the last three Christmases, it was pure joy to be home this year to celebrate with my family.  We woke up at a leisurely pace, we had coffee, we sat beside the tree listening to Christmas carols and waited for the boys to wake up.  When they did, we opened gifts.  It was a simple Christmas, much more so than in the past, and I liked it that way.

Christmas morning in our house
Christmas morning in our house

I got new pajamas, a workout shirt, some snow boots and a bunch of books, mainly by my new favorite writer, Ann Patchett.  Mike got biking gear and clothes, Alex got a new computer, and Adam got some books and his upcoming trip to Australia (which is costing us a fortune).

Alex & Adam
Alex & Adam

After taking a long hot bath, I began preparations for the traditional Christmas brunch that I made for 20 years before I went away to Korea and Oman.  We don’t make a Christmas dinner because there is no room to eat anything after this brunch.  I know we should think of changing the menu sometime as it’s not at all heart friendly.  The problem is that we all like it so much.  I made a big Southern Grits casserole.  Lots of butter, a pound of cheese, four eggs: these are all involved.  Next I made a Breakfast Frittata that includes red pepper, a dozen eggs, milk, scallions, tarragon, goat cheese and red potatoes.  As always, on Christmas Eve, I assembled Chicken and Apple Sausage Patties, made from ground chicken, Granny Smith apples, onion and fresh sage.  Mike sauteed them this morning while I made the Cranberry Maple Compote to go on the pancakes he also made.  All of this was accompanied by mimosas and a fruit salad featuring star fruit made by my sister-in-law, Barbara.  My mother-in-law also joined us, as always.

After eating this huge feast, all we really felt like doing was napping.  Everyone spread out all around the house, finding a quiet and comfortable place, and caught a peaceful bit of slumber.

Finally, after everyone woke up, we played a game of Bananagrams (I lost), then Oodles (I lost), and then Scattergories (I also lost!).  I never win these kinds of games, but it’s fun to try!

It wasn’t a terribly exciting Christmas.  There were no big crowds, and there wasn’t a lot of rambunctious behavior, but it was enjoyable just the same.  Truly, it was a joy to be back home for the holidays.

This post is in response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge of JOY.