We invited the community to share celebrations and traditions with the Hamilton community. Enjoy the pictures and stories that follow and thank you to those who shared with the ATH family. Enjoy the Winter shutdown!
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As youngsters, we lived on what could be called a “hobby farm.” We raised everything from ducks and chickens, to pigs, goats and a Jersey cow named Princess (that provided plenty milk and cream). In the late summer my Dad would order baby turkeys that we raised for Thanksgiving dinner and the winter freezer. We also had a garden that was (and I’m not exaggerating…) an acre in size. My Mother prided herself on growing, raising and cooking everything for our Thanksgiving dinner. Of course this excluded a few staples like flour for making breads, rolls and piecrust, and coffee. She taught us to be thankful for all that we had.
Mother passed away 33 years ago. She was part Mohawk Indian, and to pay homage to our heritage, last summer I took a language immersion class at Kanatsiohareke, the Mohawk community near Fonda, NY. Each day we would begin and end the class by reciting the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen, which translates as “the words before all else.” It is also known as the Thanksgiving Address, and is used before all meetings, social events and any gathering of the Iroquois. The Iroquois are thankful for everything from Mother Earth, the waters, the plants and animals, to the winds, the thunders, the sun, the moon and stars, and especially the Creator – all things that make life sustainable.
I’m not sure if my Mom realized that her notion of thankfulness and love for Thanksgiving were deep rooted in her heritage, but she instilled the principle of gratitude in her family, and the tradition of a large Thanksgiving dinner lives on with her children and grandchildren. (However, it is much different now… with store bought rolls and a frozen turkey.)
Our family celebrates a traditional Polish Christmas Eve Wigilia (vee-GEEL-yah), which literally means "vigil," or waiting for the birth of Baby Jesus. Before supper we gather around the table to break oplatki (oh-PWAHT-kee), white (and one pink) Communion-like wafers that are imprinted with beautiful Christmas images. Oplatki means “Angel Bread.” The eldest family member starts by breaking a piece and sharing it with the next eldest with wishes for good health and prosperity. Each person then follows suit going around the table. Seldom is there a dry eye as we also remember those family members who are no longer with us. Some folks share the pink-colored oplatki with their pets because the animals in the stable were the first to greet the Baby Jesus.
We then have a meatless supper with foods that represent the four corners of earth – mushrooms from the forest, grain from the fields, fruit from the orchards, and fish from the lakes and sea. Our Wigilia meal consists of pickled herring (shrimp cocktail for those not brave enough for the herring!), mushroom borscht, boiled potatoes, carrots, kapusta grochem (sauerkraut mixed with yellow split peas), pierogis, and baked fish. Dessert is the traditional stewed fruit along with some modern day Christmas cookies. I remember my mom always followed the tradition of laying some straw or hay on the dinner table, symbolizing the stable in which Christ was born, as well as setting an extra place at the table for the weary stranger that might need a meal and shelter, as Joseph and Mary did.
For me, this one very special dinner each year celebrated with loved ones, is what Christmas is all about.
My mother carried on a family tradition from our Pennsylvania Dutch (actually Deutsch (German)) heritage. She would create a white Christmas tree that resembled a bare tree in the woods coated with snow. It was a very time-consuming labor of love but the end result was beautiful. We had to find a properly shaped tree, preferably a sassafras tree, which had dropped all its leaves. The tree was placed in a stand and then every section of the trunk and limbs had to be wrapped in cotton. I always got to help because there were so many little sections to be wrapped. We used a special wrapping cotton that had a fluffy texture that resembled new fallen snow.
Once the tree was all wrapped, it was trimmed as usual. The effect was stunning. The white tree always looked like some magical fairy tree that had been transported from the woods to our living room. It glinted with silver icicles, tinsel garland and all the ornaments (many handed down from my grandparents). When we looked at that tree, we felt the love that went into creating it. Christmas was my mother’s favorite time of year and the magical white tree was just one way she made it special for all of us.
To this day, when I see the trees in the woods coated with a fluffy fresh snow, I can picture the white Christmas trees of the past. It brings back wonderful memories of childhood and my family.
Toward the end of my first semester at Hamilton, while meeting with some Newman Council members, our discussion got around to Christmas. The general direction of the conversation centered around being happy at the thought of going home for Christmas yet being sad to be away from Hamilton friends. Somehow or other we eventually talked about the last Mass of the semester as our celebration of Christmas. I don't have total recall on how the discussion of a Midnight Mass came about but, knowing me, I probably suggested that we suspend reality and make it a real Christmas event and celebrate a Mass at Midnight the Sunday of reading period.
As the day approached, we ran off some flyers in the print shop to announce the event (computers and email had yet to arrive on the hill). I 'borrowed' some extra vigil candles from St. Mary's in the village and got our music person the work up some Christmas music for the Mass. I also ran off a small program as a type of 'order of liturgy'. I remember running off fifty programs thinking that that would be more than enough.
As that day arrived, we put some candles in the windows of the chapel and, with the help of the folks at physical plant, got a Christmas tree set up and decorated next to the altar. While waiting for the midnight hour to arrive I began to wonder if this would be a quiet celebration with me and a few stray Catholics singing Christmas carols by candle light. Ever so slowly however students began to drift into the chapel. Soon the fifty programs were gone along with all of the vigil candles that I had brought up the hill. The rest just kind of happened on its own. The candles, the music, the tree and the Mass, and most of all, the friends who filled the pews that night all made for a great celebration. The lasting memory I have of that first Midnight Mass was the candles in the snow outside the chapel with students arm in arm singing Christmas carols. A little miracle two weeks before December 25th - Christmas had come to the Hill!
A Thanksgiving tradition was born when my parents died. My mother had a pair of silver candlesticks that had belonged to my grandmother. My three siblings and I did not feel right in claiming them for ourselves, so we decided to share the candlesticks. The family who hosts Thanksgiving each year, since we took turns, would have the candlesticks for the year. Over the years, our family has grown. We are now three generations and 34 strong and we rent a house in Vermont. Siblings, children, nieces and nephews and their families travel from all over to spend four days together catching up, cooking, eating, laughing, shopping, playing and even exercising. It is a sacred time for our family. The candlesticks continue to travel with us.
Ebelskivers (pronounced “able-skeevers”) are a traditional Danish sphere-shaped, puffy, rich sort of pancake. My family serves them as a special breakfast treat during holidays (and any other excuse we can think of - like family reunions).
A special pan is required. The trick is getting the pans at just the right temperature so that the little cakes are cooked on the inside and just brown on the outside. Ebelskivers can be filled. Our favorite fillings are apple and raspberry. We serve them with maple syrup or a dipping sauce of freshly squeezed lemon juice with confectioner’s sugar mixed.
Traditional Danish Recipe for Ebelskivers
4 eggs, separated
2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups buttermilk
1/2+ teaspoon cardamom
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cooking oil (not olive)
Mix dry ingredients together. Add egg yolks and buttermilk. Batter will be lumpy. Allow the batter to develop. Meanwhile, whip egg whites into stiff peaks. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter. Gently fold remaining egg white into batter.
Melt butter, add oil. Brush each cup in the ebelskiver pan with butter/oil mixture. Fill cups 3/4 full with batter. When bottom is brown flip each ebelskiver using a fork or long toothpicks.