Thursday, November 15, 2012

Occasional flare…

Again, Thanksgiving’s upon us! And this time, I plan to be ready. I’m traveling with Tabitha and Fawkes to my sister’s house in Kansas. I’ll bring some cooking tools also, probably more than I’ll need. But I intend to force my family to let me make some of the holiday meal. The mashed potatoes, certainly. Perhaps some carrots, a chunky gravy.

Of course, it’s only been a few years since I’ve become a non-embarrassment in the kitchen. My family’s accustomed still to the culinary bumbler they long knew. Thus, I suspect that, were we to get together next week for a weekend barbeque, I wouldn’t need to argue for whether I could take control of a recipe or two. They’d say, “Go for it. Let’s see what you’ve learned.” After all, if I messed up, there’s Papa John’s or India House. Except this isn’t a normal dinner. It’s Thanksgiving! And you just don’t take the risk of your suddenly wannabe Chef Son messing up a holiday feast. Give him some years to watch and learn and prepare.

It’s how holiday cooking has worked for centuries, even. Younger generations learning tricks and traditions from their parents, who learned from their parents, all making slight adjustments when their turn came. So on, down the ages, ideas evolved. As new ingredients were imported, things like cinnamon were added to pumpkin pie. As new technologies arose, things like blenders made making smooth gravy much quicker. Yet because these meals mattered more than most- holidays that brought occasional flare to all-too-often bare and simple tables- the evolution was slow, changes took time, traditions held strongly.

It you’re now asking, “Shane, why does that matter?” I want you to reread those sentences, but imagine we’re talking about religion. Go ahead. I’ll wait. You done? Great. Sounds like a related process, doesn’t it? At least, that’s my theory: cooking and religion are often the same. Especially when it comes to big moments, holiday feasts! I’ve attended Christmas services at Evangelical churches who pride themselves on using only up-to-date, hipster music. Yet on those oh-so-holy nights, the churches sang Joy to the World and such. Sure, the instrumentation was more current than organ and bells. Nevertheless, some things, I guess, you just don’t mess with.

Or rather, you only mess with over long periods of time. I mean, it’s also true that Jesus’ followers didn’t sing Silent Night, right? Instead, they celebrated festivals that evolved over centuries of Jewish observance; Passover, Booths, Pentecost, Yom Kippur, which in turn were adapted from earlier cultures and traditions. Over intervening centuries, many things happened that changed the meanings of these Jewish festivals- the Exodus from Egypt, the Exile in Babylon, the takeover of Jewish homelands by Rome. Then, for Christians, Passover became something quite transformed when thought of in light of Jesus. Yet just like Jesus, for awhile, they honored ancient tradition and performed familiar rituals.

You know the saying: the only thing that never changes is that everything changes? That’s true enough, I imagine, however slowly most important changes take. In an age like ours, such measured speeds can feel glacial even, particularly when compared with how quickly some new things change. Flashier, faster iPhones come out yearly now. E-readers and laptops get both smaller and more powerful. Why haven’t we figured out world peace, then?! Or, at least, a perfect way to make turkey gravy every time, with little fuss and less cleaning?! The Holidays are good reminders that, however true it is that all things will pass, you don’t mess with some important things without due deliberation.

So it is I’ll head to Thanksgiving with my new potato ricer and flashy wand blender, demanding to mash potatoes but not daring to roast the turkey. I may say, “Hey Mom, perhaps we ought try brining it this year?” But if we don’t, whatever. She’s Mom; she’s got it covered. And when it’s my turn to take over, eventually, I’ll be glad she passed on what she knew.

Grace and Peace,

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