When It Comes to the Christmas Table / Who is a Boss of the Festive Matter?
Before it is too late, I am coming with a few insights for your Christmas celebration. Please take it as a bit of alternative advice not to hurt yourself or others by losing your head while running in circles at the shopping malls, hunting for gifts or vice versa, as well as ejecting reality by being tired and passive. Here is a challenge to stay true and simply cherish your friendships and planet without wasting time, energy and money.
by ZIVILE LUKSYTE
photographer EKVILINA MILASEVICIUTE
Magical password for being alternative is faith. Is it about paganism? Is Jesus behind it? Maybe it is you?
In the end, no matter how advanced we are or which mindset we have installed in us, the primal cause and mother of all the celebrations is nature and food is its child.
Since the ancient times reasons to celebrate derive from hunting and gathering, or later, farming and animal husbandry. The first bonfire and a scratch of the ground brought people together. Also, having a prey or some kind of harvest was a great event to build on a collective success and joy.
Due to my own personal awareness and its roots in the design profession, it is an honour to say that paganism was totally practical religion. Daily life and habits, activities, choices were made according to a natural phenomenon, which, of course, used to be understood as miraculous, supernatural at those times.
In Lithuania Zemyna (derived from Lithuanian žemė – earth) was the most important goddess responsible for fertility and giving of life. The best quality of works and rituals – the better mood of Zemyna – the bigger feast for pagans. Following the Sun, the Moon, rain, weather, animal behaviour and etc. made people fear and pray. They believed that it helped to fulfill stomach, ensure good health and safety.
Since forever in winter time people used to celebrate the renewal of the time and the return of the sun. Advent was a preparation time for the changes that are coming. Daily works and bad thoughts were avoided to have plentiful summer as a promise.
Christmas Eve is a culminating event of the longest night, the end of the “poor” and “hungry” nature. Today we can’t feel this hunger of nature fully, while living in the cities, further away from it. Yet, with reference to paganism, some remains of the past beliefs still rest today on our tables during winter feasts.
12 dishes on the Christmas Eve – 12 months of the year that have passed. It is the only traditional feast with no meat due to the gratitude for animals, supporting people with food. And hay under the tablecloth is a sign of equality between human and animal eating together.
From the second day of Christmas days are getting longer. The end is switching with the beginning and the new episode of nature and farming. It is a birth time of flora and sun. The event inviting missing sun, light and warmth. Laughing helped to awaken lands and dead nature up. Some people dressed up as Kaleda (modern version is Santa Claus) and were walking around wishing luck and fertility, informing about a rebirth of the time and sharing hazelnuts as a gift. Pagan logic and minimalistic attitude brought people for a common joy and helped them in troublesome times.
In later times, growing and spreading of Christianity was based more on politics and business. According to the new teaching, human perception was pushed away from nature. Superstitions became rules. Step by step all pagan details were transformed in the shape of Christianity. And it was a very practical and clever way to go with. In addition, an idea of individuality appeared.
Most of the people got crazy about the One Man. Advent is a calm waiting for the birth of Jesus. In Christian version hay on the Christmas Eve table is a symbol expressing respect for the baby birth of God in a barn. Second Christmas day is for celebrating life of the saint baby who was born to rescue humanity.
Believers followed the Hero and assimilated with him. Environment and nature were moved to the second plan. People were taught to be more aware of their personal attitude, behaviour and choices. Christianity took attention away from a law of the feeding nature, a scene was taken by all giving Jesus.
Indeed, it seems that each new generation is becoming less and less religious. Saint ideas do not always go well with science or a good life. Old truth. Jesus will not save us for the second time. Now we are shopping. A new hot smartphone can cheer us up. Now we connect with each other through warm light of touch screens instead of old hot burning fire. And now we grow personal popularity by taking photos of our beautiful meals instead of growing plants, collecting tasty pictures of food. We follow fancy recipes on the Internet instead of collecting berries, mushrooms. We go to the markets to get products, instead of farming, and we are working, standing in lines, thinking hard, choosing from a colourful variety. It is so easy nowadays to grab food from distant lands in one single second.
In ancient times, people spent years to provide themselves with food and ate what they could create from scratch over a cycle of time. It is OK. The holistic significance is constantly changing with the steps of people according to scientific, industrial progress. In this context, ritual celebrations are such a mismatch between traditions and novelties, desires and duties. Some remaining ritual details became awkward habits, for example giving nuts as an expression of care and love converted to buying and gifting different stuff. Today festive table and culture reflect an evolutionary conflict between past, present and future.
To solve this confusion means to reflect our inside nature and outside knowledge. It would be nice to combine the pagan sense of collective thoughtfulness with the creativity of Jesus teaching about individual responsibilities. Imagine our abilities, efforts as a gift itself and find how our personalities can interact with each other in a holy friendship and what we can get from it.
Actually, we all can think about a notion of a preeminent American food writer M. F. K. Fisher who says that our three basic needs for food, security and love, are so mixed and mingled and tied that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. In this meaning, being minimal and practical is remembering native priorities. Each of us here is an equal boss with responsibilities in different ways and the food is our best instrument creating an honest and modern feast between beloved and trustful people.
Those who are cooking
It is a role of giving and creating. The feast is intelligent entertainment of high quality. It is an enjoyable responsibility to mix food with chosen values and creating an experience. An interpretation while using old recipes needs great bravery. Playing with traditions and bringing some new experiments on the festive table are opening the doors for new wisdom. Maybe there can be meals made in favourite tastes and names of people attending the dinner, letting them know how important they are? Edible and personal improvisation can be the best surprise gift for your coming guests.
Those who are coming to eat
It is a role of taking and using. There would be no feast and reasons to celebrate without that. To be a guest is an honour. It is the biggest gift to accept and respect given food with gratitude. Contemplating, appreciating the feast and its meals are very important. Accepting disadvantages and advantages can also encourage to make a dream feast by yourself the next year.
Those who are coming to cook and eat
It is a role of co-operating. In other words, it is an explosion of double advantage. Everybody wins by sharing time, energy, imagination and getting the biggest entertainment.
Those who keep themselves abandoned
It is a role of doing nothing. Ability to be alone is indeed a wise therapy but feasts seem to be not the right time for that. Broadly speaking, Christmas time is a focused development of love, food and security. It would be such a crime to waste such an opportunity. A choice to participate with all your creativity and ideas can solve personal hard feelings, doubts, apathy, laziness or cynicism towards the bad festive habits or boring traditions.
Each of us is responsible for a changing culture of the feast. Therefore, give yourself a gift of uniqueness and openness when spending your precious time, surprising yourself and people close to you.