Some of my most vivid Christmas memories as a child revolve around food!
There was a Saturday every October when we went, as usual, to visit grandma and grandad Drakett. The table would be full of apples, raisins, sultanas, currants, nutmeg, suet, sugar, lemons and brandy, because that was the day we would muck in as a family to make grandma’s special recipe mincemeat – grandma’s mincemeat didn’t have candied peel in it (no one in our family liked it!)
Grandma, mum and I would set to work in front of the fire on the hearth rug with bowls, and chopping boards, peeling and chopping all the ingredients until they were ready to put through the big mincer that had been attached to the table. I remember trying, without success, to turn the handle of the mincer when I was small, but over the years I got stronger and eventually assumed the role of head mincer! The minced ingredients would plop out into a big bowl ready to be mixed until it was ready to bottle. We made jars and jars of mincemeat for all the family, aunts, uncles, neighbours, church folks – just about everyone we knew got jars of grandma’s mincemeat.
Then Christmas Eve was spent (again) with chopping boards on our laps and a pan and a bowl on the floor in the living room. Grandad Lawley, dad and I watching telly as we chopped vegetables in preparation for Christmas Dinner. One of us on potatoes, one on sprouts, one on carrots; the board for peeling and chopping on our laps, the bowl for the peel and waste and the pan ready to be covered in cold water overnight, on the floor. Meanwhile, mum and grandma Lawley prepared the Turkey in the kitchen, making stuffing and bread sauce, and brandy butter for the pudding.
So many Christmas memories are associated with food! Maybe you have Christmas memories of food, prepared and eaten together?
It’s easy to hide the meaning of Christmas in food – overeating, and chocolate – and overlook the baby born for us – God with us!.
But, maybe Christmas has more to do with food than we might imagine.
Here’s what Luke tells us about Jesus’ birth – as you read, notice how many times the word ‘manger’ is used.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2: 1-20)
Writers didn’t use any more words than were necessary at the time Luke’s Gospel was written. Written words were expensive – there was the cost of the ‘paper’ and possibly the scribe’s time. So, if a word is used as many as 3 times in 20 verses it must be significant.
So, why is the manger significant?
Well, every beast of the stable knows that the manger is the feeding trough, the source of nourishing, health and strength – food for life.
And the baby Jesus lying there in the manger became the one given to us for life and health and strength, the very source of our deepest needs for nourishing, the sort of nourishing that is not satisfied by food or drink, but a spiritual food to satisfy our spirit which needs constantly feeding with what God offers us
So perhaps preparing for Christmas by making mincemeat, a rich feast of fruits for winter nourishing, is not so far removed from the fruits Jesus came to remind us of – the fruits of the spirit and the spiritual nourishing we need every day to give us life and spiritual health and strength for each day.
A Christmas Prayer
God of the years, come and meet us in the memories and rituals
of our preparations for the feast of the Birth of Jesus.
Help us to pass on, through chopped fruit and sticky fingers,
the story of mincemeat and mangers in which your love is found
and through which your sweetness nourishes us
building us up in life and spiritual health and strength. Amen.
I wish you all a blessed and peaceful Christmas as we celebrate the source of life, born among us and God’s richest blessings of love, hope, peace and joy in 2024.