|Creche, Grecia Town Square|
No Christmas shopping – our gift to ourselves and our family is our trip to Delaware on December 28. I feel none of the stress of worrying: Did I get good enough gifts? Will they like them? What if they don’t? Maybe I should go out one more time; look online again in case I missed something. In the past, from Thanksgiving until December 24th, I was pretty much consumed with buying the perfect presents, cooking the perfect food, making the house sparkle in and out.
I was always involved with whatever church we belonged to. One year that meant finding swathes of fabric from the attic and quickly fashioning it into 24 costumes in 24 hours for the children’s pageant. There were always meals to serve to the homeless and Angel Tree gifts to buy. These anchors kept me focused on the being of Christmas and I could never give them up, even when I was teaching and the week before Christmas also meant final exams and grades. But they often morphed into doing, and doing sometimes got pretty overwhelming.
One year, on Christmas Eve, after the stores had closed and I couldn’t shop any more, I baked and roasted, sautéed and simmered. In between, I painted the extensive wood moldings in the dining room. We’d recently redone the room, but my choice of color of the baseboards and wainscoting didn’t seem quite right. And heaven forbid that our house full of company would think I had bad taste. So I stayed up all night painting three coats of soft yellow over the olive green mistake. It was no wonder I usually ended up with the flu or bronchitis every year by New Years’ Day. I had accepted this as a consequence of burning out with all the doing I was doing.
Instead, this year in Costa Rica we relish the peacefulness of being. Here on our mountain, as Christmas approaches, I take pleasure in my daily routines of writing, gardening, baking/cooking. And after Paul’s morning writing stint, he heads up to the workshop, losing all sense of time as he works on another sculpture.
|Polish Raisin Bread - A Tradition Passed Down from My Dad Who Got It from His Mom|
|Grecia Metal Church|
How is this being, not doing? The only way I can articulate it is that, to me, doing always has a “should,” “must” or “have to” attached to it. Being, on the other hand, emerges from one’s inner spirit. I bake bread, not because I am supposed to bake bread as part of an action plan, but because the entire process of baking bread is joyful for me. In contrast, I painted my wainscoting because I had to have a perfect house for my Christmas guests.
|Altar, Christmas Eve, Grecia Metal Church|
|Mini-Santa, Grecia Town Square on Christmas Eve|
It’s not until Christmas Eve, however, when we drive down the mountain to Mass at the Metal Church in Grecia, that the being of Christmas this year envelops me. We get to Grecia early and stroll around the town square. The town crèche is still missing the Infant who will be placed in the manger at midnight. It’s balmy; people stroll or sit on the cement benches. Several pose in front of the crèche for photos. We sit too, people-watching before entering the church at about 7:30 to get a good seat.
Red velvet drapery swags tied up with gold bows greet us as we enter the church. Red and gold is the theme of the festively decorated pillars; the altar is banked with dozens of red poinsettias. A crèche just a little smaller than the one outside on the town square waits for its Infant. A blue curtain behind the crèche hides the glass coffin where the crucified Christ lies in repose. No sense worrying Mary about the future on this eve of her baby’s birth.
More people-watching. Folks enter the church, bless themselves and find family members. There are hugs, kisses. Many of the women hold what at first appear to be baby dolls. Then I realize that they are tenderly cradling the infants from their home crèches. A distant memory tugs at a corner of my mind: I know that I’ve seen this before, maybe at St. Anthony’s, the Italian-American church I attended in high school. These infants will be blessed at the end of Mass before being taken home and carefully placed in the family’s manger scene.
In a corner of the altar, behind the blue curtain, choir members and musicians tune up and check their mics. A man who looks like he knows what he’s doing adjusts chairs, lecterns. He hurries to the back of the church and I see that he’s entered a tiny room with ropes hanging down. He begins ringing the church bells. A deep bong, bong, bong … I have an overwhelming urge to join him, hanging on to one of the bell ropes, feeling the weight, the heavy brass bell pulling me up into the bell tower.
The first hymn signals the procession of gold-robed priests preceded by a deacon enthusiastically swinging a censer. The smell and smoke of incense soon permeates the church. The final priest holds high the Infant who later will be nestled into the manger. Mass has begun. The Pascal candle is lit from the four Advent candles – three purple and one pink.
Mass in Spanish reminds me of my childhood when Mass was in Latin. Now, as then, the mystery of the words is balanced by the familiarity of the rituals. I am well-practiced in sit-stand-kneel. At the Peace, Paul and I hug and he whispers, “What do we say?” “How about Feliz Navidad?” I whisper in reply. We turn to the nuns in the pew behind us and grasp their hands. “Feliz Navidad,” we say. The nuns look confused. It occurs to me that because the Infant has not yet technically been born, e.g. placed in the manger, it’s not time to say “Feliz Navidad” yet. Oh well. Gringo mistake.
|Getting Ready to Place the Infant in the Manger|
|In Front of the Grecia Town Square Creche|
At the end of Mass, the women around me take out their infant statues and the priest blesses them. One woman kneeling nearby clutches her baby Jesus and sobs. Others hold theirs with their husbands or children, a family tradition. The choir begins “Little Drummer Boy” and the procession to bring the infant to the crèche begins. After Jesus is placed in the manger, the church bells ring out and people begin filing out. Now is the time for “Feliz Navidad.” People greet each other jubilantly. They will go home and gently place their Infants into the mangers. Jesus, not Santa, will bring gifts to the children.
|Paul Videotapes Worshippers Leaving Mass|
We head down the church steps to see if Jesus has shown up in the town crèche. Not yet. People are posing for pictures and we do too. I haven’t discovered how and when Jesus gets into the town crèche. Is there another procession at midnight on the dot? Is he snuck in by one of the town maintenance workers? I just know that in the morning, when families come to stroll the town square, Jesus will be there. Being, not doing.
|Our Patio, Where We Watch the Stars|
Paul and I return home and have eggnog and homemade Polish raisin bread (from the one precious loaf we’re not giving away) on our patio. The sky is inky black; sparkling with millions of stars. A bright planet glistens above the town square now distant in the valley. Waiting for Jesus.