The importance of holiday traditions is very apparent in my profession. As a kindergarten teacher, I spend my days surrounded by that particular joy and magic that only occurs in childhood. For the wee ones, whose little minds have yet to grasp the concept of time, the progression of a year is gauged by the succession of holiday traditions. Turning a page of the calendar does not signify the beginning of another month, a seasonal transition or another phase of this year's journey around the sun. Turning a page of the calendar means it's time to move on to the next phase of festivities. These days, it seems the first of December marks the beginning of Christmas, a month-long holiday that has less to do with the winter solstice or the birth of Christ and more to do with candy, crafts and extravagance. As I grow older (a little less young, I mean to say), I find the spirit of the season waning as, one-by-one, I discard my own favorite holiday tasks and traditions all in the name of "simplifying". What is a tradition anyway? This thing you do to mark an occasion, this custom passed down through generations, this habitual ritual in which you engage simply because your calendar page proclaims the time has come...and so it must be done?
In my grown-up world, Christmas is a hectic time, a messy time, where my own cherished family traditions remain tucked away in the garage while I manage the Christmas craft extravaganza and holiday hoopla otherwise known as "Kindergarten". Don't get me wrong, it is a position of privilege to be among the few who fuel the childhood traditions and keep that magical wonder alive. But it is overwhelming at times. I freely admit to crossing off the days on the calendar, counting down to that time of blessed seasonal bliss otherwise known as "Christmas Break". Truth be told, by the time my calendar page exclaims it is time to engage in my own little holiday rituals...all I can say is, no thanks. I have no desire to decorate. I want no more crafting or gifting. I cannot possibly eat another cookie or slice of cake, so baking? Forget about it. I'm quite inclined to skip it this year.
But then I wake up on the morning of Christmas Eve with that feeling that something is missing. It's not the stockings or the tree, for I did reluctantly haul them in from the garage, after all. I have my twinkling lights and ornaments, my decorations and adornments. I crafted, I gifted, I wrapped, I shipped...but still...I'm missing it...what is it? I wander into the kitchen just as that first stream of golden light peeks through the curtain and begins to crawl along the wall. As I begin the sacred ritual of preparing my morning brew, it suddenly occurs to me that it is Christmas Eve and I have no special traditions to look forward to. Year after year, I spend the season consumed with the task of maintaining the traditions of others, at the expense of my own. When I stop to think of it, I don't really have any holiday rituals of my own anymore. I think I may need to make myself a new Christmas tradition.
I pause to ponder the Christmas seasons of my childhood and all the little rituals that fueled my own magical sense of wonder. There was Santa, of course. The tree, the lights, the snow, the gifts, the food and the family gatherings. There were aunts and uncles, all the cousins and Grandma's carrot pudding on Christmas Eve. There were kids in pajamas, a cozy fire and Mom's bread pudding on Christmas Day. Missing the family, missing the food, I set about baking and creating some sort of holiday tradition for myself.
Still suffering the ill-effects of the kindergarten classroom chaos and my Christmas cookie coma, I was desiring something healthy to eat. How about oatmeal...that tastes like gingerbread...with pears...and baked to sort of resemble that Christmas morning bread pudding. Well, it wasn't like my mom's bread pudding at all, but it was warm and comforting. Really, it was just a pan of oatmeal, but adding a little molasses and ginger, filled the kitchen with Christmas flavor and effectively summoned the spirit of the season.
I used to love the Christmas holiday. Not just holiday itself, but that magical time of preparation and anticipation that preceded that actual day of celebration. Picking out a tree, putting up the lights and hauling down the boxes of ornaments from the attic...oh, how I loved that box of ornaments! Each one so carefully selected and lovingly collected year after after year. I can't recall the point at which the ritual began or when it was finally outgrown, but for as long as I could remember, every Christmas each one of us kids was either given, or got to shop for, a special ornament to add to the family collection. There are nine of us, mind you...nine children in the family. So you can imagine how big the collection and the size of the tree required to accommodate all those precious adornments! Every ornament had a story. Some years, the ornaments had a theme. Some years, they reflected a significant event. Some years, they marked a particular childhood phase of interest. My treasured favorites are the ones hand-painted by my grandma. I think my favorite part of the ritual was taking the ornaments out of the box, delicately unwrapping them one-by-one, claiming those that belonged to me and exclaiming Ooooh! I remember the year I got that one...! and carefully placing them on the tree. I do believe it was the stories I loved most about that tradition. Revisiting the memories that lay so carefully tucked away until that special time of year. Seeing myself evolve with the ornaments as I grew and matured. Yes, that was by far my most favored childhood holiday tradition. The big family box of ornaments has long been disbursed amongst the siblings, each child's special collection now decorating their own family's Christmas tree and hopefully beginning the new generation's extension of our own beloved childhood tradition.
This Baked Gingerbread Oatmeal may not itself become the beloved Christmas tradition I am longing for. It is not the particular recipe, but rather the act of setting aside some time for me. It's about allowing myself to indulge my sentimental side, to craft and create for myself just because I want to, not because I am obligated to. It's about nurturing my own childish sense of wonder and passing it on to others.
Baked Gingerbread Oatmeal with Pears
- 3 cups rolled oats
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
- 1 cup almond, coconut or other nut milk (if your mixture seems too dry, add a little more milk)
- 2 cups fresh pears, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Soon my little box of ornaments will be again tucked away in the garage, awaiting that time next year when my calendar page will proclaim it's time to engage in those holiday festivities. Whether it is blogging, baking, crafting, creating or simply spending time with people you love, be sure to set aside that precious time this busy holiday season. Engage in your own beloved rituals and share them with others. Sometimes the most special traditions are the simple, little things that matter most to you.
- Place dry ingredients together in a bowl, stir to combine.
- Add wet ingredients and pears, stir until well combined and pour into 8x8 inch pan. Arrange fresh pear slices on top and sprinkle entire surface with coconut sugar. (coconut palm sugar is lower-glycemic, but brown sugar would probably be tasty, too.)
- Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly before serving.
Wishing you the happiest of holidays :)
Labels: Cooking, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Organic, Recipes, Winter