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 the days off 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 this 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.
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.
- 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.
- Place dry ingredients together in a bowl, stir to combine.
- Add wet ingredients and pears, stir until well combined and pour into 8×8 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.
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.