Miriam’s first Christmas with us and with her Aunt Anita began with our attending the Christmas Eve Mass at which Michelle played the handbells. Although only the first of five Masses in which I participated, the crowded liturgy went very well and Father Scott McCue’s homily offered great interaction for the children in attendance and spiritual insight for their parents as well. One of the great gifts of this Christmas was the welcome addition of a dismissal catechesis for the catechumens at the subsequent vigil Mass. Our pastor, Father John Durbin, also took the opportunity to explain the significance of the catechumenate to the whole assembly, his experience of spending time with these men and women the week before, and inviting catechumens from other parishes who might have been visiting Saint Thomas More to join with us in breaking open the word and reflecting on the Incarnation. The folks among whom I am blessed to minister deepened my experience of Christ making his dwelling among us through the faith stories they shared and I know the enrichment was mutual as I helped them to see their experiences as part of the whole Paschal Mystery that began with the birth of Jesus. I pray that many more at that Mass and even more at other celebrations throughout the world will open their hearts to recognize the longing in their hearts that is only fulfilled by resting in God.
When I finally made it home for the intermission before the Midnight Mass the Ghanaian feasting began! As mentioned previously, Anita arrived on December 11 and had been spending the last couple of weeks with us. As many of you may also know, Anita spent much of last year in Ghana with EAP—one of the great treasures of the UC. Anita had been commenting on the difficulty of finding West African cuisine since being back in the US and so I suggested that there must be somewhere in the Triangle that would suffice. After some internet hunting and a drive around Raleigh we located Afrika Exotik, a small grocery squished in the armpit of a strip mall between a night club and a panaderia that smelled more like fish than bread. Run by a Gambian family who stocked all the West African comestibles Anita had been craving as well as VCDs of Ghanaian, Senegalese, and Nigerian films Anita instantly felt right at home. Miriam and I perused the shelves as Anita bounced with delight filling her basket with cocoyam (taro) flour, palm oil, egusi seeds, and mysterious pepper all while texting her friends back in San Diego for their requests. The result was our consuming nearly a litre of palm oil over the course of the holiday as this thick red oil was used in the excellent groundnut soup served over fufu (sans the okra on the side) we had on Christmas Eve as well as the light soup we had the night before and the fried plantains and red red topped with gari served for Christmas dinner. Miriam too had a few little bites of plain fufu.
While Miriam of course did not understand the Christmas festivities she certainly did enjoy thrashing open some presents, hunting the cats when they attempted to hide from her under the Christmas tree, and playing with some fun new toys she received especially Hide ‘n Squeak Eggs, a bear that reads ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, a bouncy ball, and—what we hope to be a good omen—bedtime Curious George. Michelle and I were most excited about the new clothes for Miriam who grows ever taller and larger every day although our own presents of an equally practical nature were welcome indeed.
Though the sun has set on Christmas day as quickly (and early) as it arose the delight we had in a prayerful, tasty, and joyful Christmas still fills our hearts and has filled our albums with many pictures of this first Christmas with Miriam. Hodie Christus natus est, Alleluia! Hodie salvator apparuit, Alleluia!.