Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
While there are many things we might think about and consider during the Christmas season, one thing that dominates my mind is food. Perhaps this is because I particularly enjoy eating, especially at the holidays. Believe it or not, in my house, I am known for my eating prowess, often called upon as the finisher of dishes. I daresay I love to eat and Christmas is the perfect time to indulge in both fine and familiar food.
And when it comes to Christmas, there are many cultural and familial food traditions. If you come from an Italian background, then you most likely look forward to a feast of seven fishes on Christmas Eve. If you’re Polish, then you might have some kind of fish as well on Christmas Eve, but you might also enjoy a nice babka on Christmas morn. The Germans enjoy Lebkuchen and perhaps even a mug of Glühwein. Even more local family traditions are of great importance. If I don’t have an Arby’s roast beef sandwich or a snickerdoodle from my Nan’s recipe, it’s not an official Christmas celebration. Certainly, many of us feel the same way about our own family meal traditions.
Why though, is Christmas so crazy when it comes to what we eat? Other holidays have precise foods associated with it, but they somehow don’t measure up in the same way as our yuletide eating habits. I might get upset if there is no cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, but I’d start a riot if there are no homemade chocolate chip cookies from my mom at Christmas. Food, eating, and what is served all have great importance not just in our modern Christmas experience, but in that first Christmas in Bethlehem as well.
We often hear the story of Christmas. Mary and Joseph are in town for the Roman census, when it suddenly is time for Mary to give birth. While still on the outskirts, they come to an inn and find that there is not a room available for them. Having no other option, they took refuge where the animals were kept. And being born in such lowly conditions, the baby Jesus is wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. All of this is familiar to us.
But that one word, manger, passes by most of us without much notice. It could be that for many of us, this word connotes that of the stable area or the crèche that Mary and Joseph took shelter in. But a closer translation of it is the actual feeding trough for the animals. That’s right; our Lord and Savior found his first resting place in the place where cows, horses, and donkeys ate their food from. This foreshadows in some ways our own continued interaction with Christ even today, that not only do we believe him to be God, but that we eat His Body and Blood as spiritual food in the Eucharist.
Friends, I sincerely wish and pray that you have a happy and blessed Christmas with your family and friends. Go and enjoy your celebrations together and eat all the foods you know to make the season special for you. But in the midst of all that frivolity, remember that Christ himself is the everlasting food found in the Eucharist and by sharing in that meal with fellow Catholic Christians, we celebrate at a deeper level the true meaning of Christmas.
Peace and Goodness,