Saturday, November 24, 2007

"After you have threshed all your grain and pressed all your grapes, celebrate the Festival of Shelters for seven days. Enjoy it with your children, your servants, the Levites, foreigners, orphans and widows who live in your towns. Honor the Lord your God by celebrating the festival for seven days at the one place of worship. Be joyful, because the Lord has blessed your harvest and your work" (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).

Festivals and feasts and special days are good things. They bring us joy and they are great memory makers.

Sinterklaas (the forerunner of our own Santa Claus), the good bishop from Spain, arrived in Holland by boat on November 17th this year. At night, from November 17th until the 5th of December, Sinterklaas, on his white horse, and his helpers, Zwarte Piet's (Black Peter's) fly above the housetops looking for good children. When they find them they leave little treats in their shoes. A treat might be a tiny chocolate shaped mouse or it might be a Dinky toy truck. The children also leave treats for Sinterklaas, his horse and for Zwarte Piet. Zwarte Piet has been known to get so rambunctious, that children often find a chair or table turned upside down when they get up the next morning. On December 5th Sinterklaas leaves big gifts for good children. Bad children get a sack of salt, a bundle of sticks or a piece of black coal. Sinterklaas parties are fun. Gifts for your family and friends are wrapped appropriately and personally and the wrapping or covering of your gift is to fit the personality of the person receiving the gift. For instance, since my son-in-law loves golf, his gift of golf balls would be placed inside a home-made golf bag made from cardboard, paper and glue and it would be accompanied by a poem which my son-in-law would read to everyone. Sometimes a small special gift is wrapped in a plastic bag, along with some spoof gifts wrapped in plastic bags and buried in a can of syrup and coffee grounds. The recipient would have to dig into the can of goop until the real gift was found and of course, the poem written just for this occasion would be read to all. The poems must be true to the person's personality, also. A real Dutch Sinterklaas night is real family fun at its best and the treats are delicious. My favorite treats - chocolate letters and Sinterklaas's staff - puff pastry filled with almond paste shaped into a staff and baked and pepernoten (pepper-nuts), a tiny spice cookie that Zwarte Piet leaves. Yummy!

I came to love the Sinterklaas Feest better than Christmas and Santa Claus. When I lived in Holland Sinterklaas was not so commercialized and much was just home-made fun and very family oriented. We were Americans, so we also celebrated American holidays. Thanksgiving was one of those. Carrots were substituted for pumpkin, but the pie was just as good. At the time we lived in Holland there was no cornmeal, but cream of wheat was a reasonable substitute for making "cornbread," which turned into "cornbread" dressing. Turkeys were too expensive and chicken, though more expensive than pork or beef, was a good substitute for turkey. A lot of our festivities were home-made fun and became tradition in our house. Those traditions have become the glue that has held our family together through good and bad times.

If you find yourself far from home this holiday season, but don't have all the ingredients of home to put your feast together, be creative and make them up. The made-up part will become the tradition and the glue that will hold your family together someday. And once you return to the states, you will find that the meat and fresh produce isn't quite as tasty as there or perhaps that carrot pie is better than pumkin. The important thing is that you have made some home-made fun that your children will remember and recall every holiday for the rest of their lives.

If you are not far away from home and know a missionary family, you still have time to send a stuffing mix, some cranberry sauce, a can of pumpkin (don't forget the pumpkin spice), some pecans for a pie, a brownie mix or cake mix and perhaps some small gifts for the children. Remember to pack the things carefully and stuff the sides with dryer sheets and zip-lock bags, some aluminum foil, plastic wrap, a Sports Illlustrated and a woman's magazine from the grocery store. Unwrapping packages from home says more than "we remember." It says, "we care." It says, "we love you."

Buying special treats for missionaries could be made into something special at your church or it could become a family tradition in your family. Allow your children to make up some special wrappings and poems or stories to be included in the package. There are lots of ways to make memories your children will remember for years to come.

Missionary care is an attitude. Tell me all the ways you celebrate special holidays, how you make substitutions or how you help others celebrate.

Love's Prayers,

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