Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - January 5, 2018
Our “all-American” Christmas
In our family, Christmas is the most important holiday. The very reason for the day - the celebration of the birth of the Christ child - and many of its important aspects, such as the Christmas tree, are connected to foreign lands. Still, in celebrating the season, I am inclined to think of our Christmas as a quintessentially American event - a time of family, friends, events, and food well-removed from foreign connections by years of absorption into our culture.
But maybe that isn’t completely so. Husband Art and I now tend to think of the annual Swedish dinner in Olsburg, Kansas on the first Saturday in December as our Christmas season kick-off. The smorgasbord always includes lutfisk, Swedish meatballs, pickled herring, ostkaka (cheesecake) with lingonberries, and ginger cookies, all of which are foods we normally eat on just that one day.
This year, we attended two elementary school music programs organized by youngest daughter Katie, now a K-5 music teacher, and a large holiday production - “O Holy Night: Christmas Around the World” - performed by the Flint Hills Children’s Choir. While there were many familiar carols, pieces in Spanish, Latin, and Hindi were included. The songs came from France, England, Ireland, Germany, Spain, regions of Africa, the Ukraine, India and other nations.
The next couple of weeks were a blur of good ol’ American Christmas fare, such as finding and decorating our tree, shopping, wrapping gifts, and preparing for our big family get-together with my siblings and their families on Dec 23.
During this time, we were texting with our son-in-law Matt’s mother Susan about her Dec. 15 departure for England to be with her daughter Caitlyn, who is studying in London. Hardly a day passed when I didn’t exchange WhatsApp messages and photos with our “adopted” German daughter Nadja and son Tim in Berlin. I shared an equal number with my friend Bryce, who has been “jet-setting” to any number of foreign destinations.
And even our big celebration had a major foreign influence. While brother Dave and his family and most of Gaila’s clan arrived from destinations within our borders, she and hubby Humberto had arrived just a few days earlier from their home in Bolivia - only the fourth time in 35 years for them to be here during the holidays.
The celebration was pretty traditional, centered on a ham dinner and a gift exchange. Twenty-two of us, representing three generations, crowded into the home of daughter Mariya and fiancée Miriam. Still, among the gifts were packets of coffee and chocolate Gaila brought from Bolivia, linens I had purchased in France, and scarves niece Gabriela purchased in India, where she attended a college classmate’s wedding.
On Christmas Eve, Art, Katie, Matt and I were back at Maryia’s and Miriam’s place with Miriam’s family for a supper of pozole and tamales - traditional Mexican dishes. The pozole was a first for us - a delicious soup made with hominy and pork and optional garnishes of shredded cabbage, diced radishes, sliced onions, cilantro and lime wedges.
Before we opened presents on Christmas morning, Matt prepared German pancakes. After the unwrapping, we engaged in what has become another Christmas tradition - watching “Love Actually,” a British movie with story strands in the United Kingdom, France, Portugal and the U.S.
That evening, we went to a Chinese buffet - something we’ve done every year since the girls were little. Back then, we often traveled on Christmas Day, and the only restaurants we found open were Chinese ones.
Two days after Christmas, Art and I set out for his hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, where we joined his brother Tommy and Herrmann cousins. Among gifts to Tommy was jam from Poland. Ryan, who went with us to France in 2014, is completing his undergraduate degree in wildlife ecology with a minor in French. His sister Sarah teaches French in Austin, Texas, where boyfriend Yorgos, a native of Cyprus, is finishing his PhD in physics.
The frigid weather - one night it reached -11F - prompted Art to mention how much he appreciated the 100-percent wool sweater he purchased 20 years ago in New Zealand. On more “balmy” days, he wore his 100-percent wool cap from Wales.
Throughout the past few days, I have been communicating with colleague Deb, who is spending 10 days in London; Bryce, who stopped off in Guam a few days before heading on to Korea for a day and then New Zealand for several months; and Nadja, who is with her boyfriend Matze in Finland for a week.
And we still have some Christmas cards to send. Included on our list are folks in Canada, Sweden, Germany, France, England and Ireland.
Our “all-American” Christmas was really a mixture of influences from around the globe and served to illustrate what a small world it really is and how connected we all are.
Top-left: Swedish supper in Olsburg; top-middle: Christmas morning at home; top-right: Freeland family gathering; bottom-left: Christmas Eve with Miriam's family; bottom-right: Herrmann family gathering in Wisconsin.