SPECIAL GIFTS OF CHRISTMAS
By the Rev.Dr. Harold B. Wright, II
Wet dressing and doughnut holes. My mouth begins to water at the very mention of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Wet dressing and doughnut holes. Oh, I like the turkey and pumpkin pie, and my eyes light up at the Christmas decorations and holiday parties, but my mouth is watering for a taste of these two items because for as long as I can remember, they were the staples of our holidays.
Wet dressing at Thanksgiving — not a dry, crouton-consistency dressing, not a moist cornmeal concoction, not even bread crumbs stuffed inside the cavity of the bird in the oven — but wet dressing, made simply with bread and onions and celery and seasonings, placed around the outside of the turkey while it cooks, simmering and marinating in the essence and juices of the roasting poultry. If you do it just right, once the turkey is carved and the potatoes are mashed and the dressing is spooned into a serving bowl, it looks more like a thick lumpy gravy than dressing. But oh the taste! Thanksgiving isn’t real to me until my first helping.
The same goes for doughnut holes, which were passed down from my grandmother to my mother. The Christmas Eve tradition was homemade doughnuts. After church was over and we returned home and before we were hustled off to bed, my mother would make doughnuts. She would sprinkle them with confectionery sugar and we would stuff ourselves. But the best part wasn’t the doughnut itself, the best part was the hole cut out of the middle. It was small enough to be consumed in one bite, but completely covered in the sugar topping. To this day, the final ritual of Christmas Eve — after the candlelight communion service, after the last present is wrapped and placed under the tree, after everything else — is the making and eating of the doughnuts — and the holes.
But if wet dressing and doughnut holes were all the holidays meant to me, they would be shallow and empty celebrations. If some mushy bread and fried dough were the sum and substance of what those days mean, I would surely have missed the point. These two holidays, linked so closely together in time and observance, are more than just the bookends of a grand month of parties and reverie. They have form and substance that we often miss in the glitter and glow of lights, the decorations, food and family gatherings.
Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks to God for sustenance and majesty, for protection and provision. Dating generations before the Pilgrims landed on the Massachusetts shore, even to the very beginnings of creation itself when humanity began to realize and know of something or someone beyond themselves, thanksgiving is a fundamental response of the human soul. We come to realize that what we have and what we are is bigger than we are and comes from beyond ourselves. So turning our hearts and souls heavenward, we bow in humility and gratitude to the One who is greater than ourselves, however we conceive of that being. Thanksgiving is fundamental to self-realization and what we cannot do or make ourselves. We’ve surrounded that basic human emotion and response with Pilgrim stories, turkeys, parades, football games, family gatherings and even wet dressing. But the very essence of the day grows out of the depths of our souls in a spirit of gratitude and wonder at all that blesses and surrounds us.
It is similar with Christmas. The tradition is grounded in the Christian experience of the birth of a messiah: a baby born of humble parents in small crowded town that evokes the sounds of angels and light of a star, the visit of shepherds and the gifts of magi that is articulated simply as glory. But we’ve taken that incarnational story and overwhelmed it with the trappings of our major holiday, from cards to gifts to decorations to Santa Claus to parties to jingle bell songs to doughnut holes. The essence of the day is not in the glitz and glamour, the essence of the day is in the amazing gift of the divine in the innocence and wonder and miracle of the human form of a newborn child.
So as for me and my household, these coming days will be busy and filled with preparations and anticipation. And I’ll grocery shop for the ingredients to make the food my mouth can almost already taste. At the very core of my soul, though, these won’t matter at all. It will be a time of amazing thanksgiving, wonder and worship and glory, focused on God.
The Rev. Dr. Harold B. Wright, II is the senior pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church, 301 Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis. He can be reached at email@example.com or 410 268-1776.