Growing up, Christmas Eve used to be mass, then home for eggnog in porcelain cups, opening the 'family presents' and staying up with my brother in an attempt to see Santa, who would fill our stockings and restock the gifts under the tree sometime before dawn.
I arrived at my sister's house after visiting friends in the East Bay as her family, and my brother, who'd driven up from the Santa Cruz county house we grew up in, were getting ready for church. Having gotten up at the crack of dawn to practice yoga and chant, "I'd done my thing for the day," I explained as I opted out of the service, then got to cooking, my gift to them (we've outgrown the shopping frenzy) being the preparation of the vegetarian components of the Christmas dinner: winter green salad, mixed squash soup, beets&kale, quinoa with brussel sprouts, something with yellow Finn potatoes I haven't quite decided and a gluten-free spice Bundt cake (They'll round out the rest with a roast, bread, See's candy and a bona-fide buche de noel). I rarely make anything that takes longer than 10 minutes to prepare in SF but put me in suburbia with a big kitchen, and voila, my inner Martha rears her oven mitts.
Church though, that doesn't come back as easily. I thought about the information I got from the Catholic Church long ago, much of it I've been working to undo. My dad, I recalled, had always bowed out of Christmas Eve services as well, waving us off to the Church my mother insisted we attend, in favor of Karl Jung and Joseph Campbell books.
"The two most important things you can give a person are information and food," an Indian saddhu who'd wandered and chanted his way through much of that country told me during my time there.
Back in suburban California, I sliced squash and sauteed onions, thinking of my parents and what beliefs they'd carried with them to the end of their lives. They'd given me information, that's for sure, but much of it, I'm still grappling with.
I thought of the saddhu's words and got back to the vegetables. Hopefully they'll be enough! In addition to my sister, her husband, two children, my brother, about 10-15 more people are expected to arrive. I'd pureed half the soup, by the time the church goers returned. I let them do some "quality control" taste-testing and asked my brother about the house. What was growing? What was new?
He thought a moment, then told me the one thing he knew I'd appreciate (and I very much appreciate that he knows I'd appreciate this):
A month or so ago, a Cooper's Hawk had flown through his window, mostly likely as it was attempting to catch one of the quail that flock in the yard. The large bird knocked itself out, before coming to and flying about the house, banging into walls and more glass. Imagine! A big hawk in your house! What to do? Eventually they were able to guide it back outside, to open sky, freedom. This story, to me, is information I can use.