The holidays are approaching for most of us. Have you ever noticed that sometimes the gifts that mean the most are the ones that reveal an emotional sensitivity by the giver? Over the years I have “dispensed” with Christmas by giving gifts of monetary value and minimal emotional impact. I am not proud of this and I honestly suspect that my irritation with the commercialization of the holidays is the reason. Yet as I look around my home, I can observe the items that I have chosen to hold on to. Little hand made pieces of art work, even from my 8 year old niece, Tessa. Gifts from the heart. Leave it to the children to bring us back to our senses.
Think about what these holidays mean to you. They are about family traditions and memories. When I permit myself to drift freely, the first memory that comes to mind is my sisters, nieces and nephews, my daughter all stretched out in my parents living room. We are watching movies, blankets and pillows all over the place. It is snowing outside, and the snow is deep and we don’t have to go or be anywhere. My other niece would make a nest under the Christmas tree and sleep there all night. Even close friends of the family were staying with us. My mother in the kitchen, already setting up the coming feast. She is gone now, these memories are precious to me.
So, this year will be different. My excuse has always been, “I am just too busy with work.” So I drift in, take what I need or want, and then drift out. In the past it has been easy to play this game. I was always working during the holidays, being in the restaurant industry. I even told myself this last year, and the year before, and the year before, despite the fact that I have been out of the THAT business for the past 5 years.
My sisters and I have a shared experience as children. We grew up as second generation Americans. My grandparents came from Slovenia and Croatia. During the holidays we would always be inundated with a particular ethnic delicacy. We never really liked it much as kids because it was not sweet enough. But, as an adult and following my culinary training, I took the opportunity to learn the recipe. Though I have taught my daughter the recipe, I am the true “keeper of the flame” when it comes to this tradition. Last year I did not bother. I was too busy. The truth is that it was just too much trouble. I have come to the realization that I am generous with my money but pretty stingy with my time.
The sweet bread is called POTI’CA (pronounced po-teet’-za). I always laugh now when I say the word because years ago I asked a Bulgarian woman if she knew what that was. She turned red and started to laugh. Apparently there is a similar word in Bulgarian that refers to a personal female body part. Anyway, this holiday season, I will take off two days just before Christmas to make the loaves. The work is tedious and requires a full day of focus. The dough is a raised yeast product that is rolled with a sweet ground walnut filling I will be turning my bathroom into a proof box, my kitchen into a bake shop.
I have been BUYING my way out of the spirit of Christmas for years now. This year I am buying my way back in — with my heart and my time and my effort. You understand, my sisters and I can not even smell this bread without instant visions of our childhood. With both parents gone, we are the only ones who will make this connection. My niece, who is embarking on an extremely successful fashion design career, once told me that she would go to more symphony concerts if she could afford it, will get a symphony gift certificate. I am so not good at this. I suppose my lesson here is that giving without my heart is not really giving at all. I get it.