One day this week, someone posted this question on Facebook, "What was the most meaningful Christmas present you ever received?" Answers ranged from a return to health to a jet black Jaguar and everything in between. No matter what you perceive to be the gift you'll always treasure beyond all others, that special something is always tied to a specific time and place in your life.
Christmas Eve was a very sacred event in our family when my brother and I were growing up. Since we lived in Zedo's house, naturally his rules on this day were religiously upheld. No one other than the immediate family members were permitted to enter the house and sit down for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Once seated with Zedo at the head of the table, Baba to his right, and the rest of the guests gathered according to seniority, Zedo would pray in Slovak, then lift his shot glass to wish his wife, children, their spouses, and his grandchildren a blessed Christmas. The adults did likewise as they toasted Zedo in return. Next every child would stand and recite Christmas wishes in Slovak. Zedo and Baba would beam with pride to listen to us, perhaps going back in their minds to their childhoods when they'd done the same so long ago.
(Since we all attended Catholic school, the nuns began teaching us a festive speech early in November. No two classes ever learned the same greeting for that particular year.)
The women would then return to the kitchen to bring out the mushroom soup. Everyone received a small bowl and ate the sour mixture in silence. We were told that the meaning behind the soup was a reminder of the suffering we all must face in life. And since it wasn't the most pleasant-tasting soup in my opinion, the suffering started right then and there, at least for me!
When the bowls were removed, traditional favorites like babalki, langosh, navy beans, and fish were passed around the table and enjoyed along with happy conversation and boisterous laughter. At the end of the meal, Zedo again said a prayer of thanks, and after hugs and kisses, everybody returned home. Those who left would be back on Christmas Day to gather around Zedo's table once more, this time including some very special family friends.
As clean-up got underway, my brother and I were told to go upstairs, get into our jammies, and jump in bed! Nobody had to tell us twice on this Night of Nights!
About an hour or two later, we'd hear a loud bang and run to the top of the stairs. Zedo would be standing at the bottom, smiling and pointing to all the presents surrounding the 8ft. tall tree he'd cut and trimmed just days ago.
I know it's taken me a while to get to my most meaningful Christmas present, so here goes. Instead of rushing to see who's name was on the largest package like my brother, I'd immediately go to my stocking hanging from the mantle. It was about two feet long and always contained the same things each and every year until we were practically in our teens. There would be a coloring book, a fresh box of crayons, a drawing pad, pencils, gloves, socks, candy canes, AND MY MOST MEANINGFUL CHRISTMAS PRESENT, the largest, roundest orange I'd ever seen that smelled absolutely heavenly! It was always on the very top of the stocking so I could see its brilliant color peeking out as if to say, 'Merry Christmas, sweetheart, and a Blessed and Peaceful New Year!' I would hold it gently in both hands and kiss its sweet skin. Just looking at this simple piece of fruit brought tears to my eyes, yet put a smile on my lips.
The orange had and still does have a special place in my heart since it was my Dad's favorite fruit. Baba told me that he'd even eat the peels!
Merry Christmas, Dad, and a Blessed and Peaceful New Year!
Always and forever!
One last note on our Christmas Eve dinner: By today's standards, our family's traditional meal would be considered a 'poor man's' sustenance, but we felt like royalty at my Zedo's table!