December 11, 2021 Essay: Prepare and Rejoice!
Rejoice, the Lord is near! St. Paul proclaims in the reading today that all shall rejoice in the Lord as the time is near for his incarnation. Today is Gaudete Sunday, and Gaudete is the Latin word for Rejoice. The purple vestments and candles make way for rose-colored vestments and candles that represent joy. This week in Advent signals that the birth of Jesus is imminent. This is the moment we wait with Mary and join with her in preparation for the birth of Jesus.
There are many ways to prepare for the birth of Jesus during Advent. For me, growing up in an Italian American family, holidays always centered around festive foods and traditions. In the third week of Advent, my Nanna’s kitchen smelled divine. Flour, sugar, spices, vanilla, anise, and almond flavorings were spread across her kitchen table. Mouth-watering aromas wafted from her oven. Noticeably missing were recipe cards or sheets of paper with recipes written down. I learned that she brought all her recipes from Italy, yet none were written down anywhere. All her recipes were memorized in Italian, and she did not use measuring cups! She would take handfuls of flour, half-handfuls of sugar—that was her baking technique. And every year, we rejoiced in her delicious delicacies. Even though her unique baking style was unconventional, the taste was always superb! Nanna loved to bake ricotta pies, spinach and escarole pies, pizza, “thodals”—that are similar to angel drops, making pasta from scratch, and more. Every day she walked a mile to 6 AM Mass and then began her marathon days of baking when she returned home. This was her way of preparing for the birth of the baby Jesus as she waited with Mary.
Nanna was always smiling and happy, but at Christmas, she exuded an extra measure of joy. As I ponder the joy Christmas brought to me in my youth, I see how much my Nanna taught me. Her everyday life became my script. She was a unique yet simple role model. Therefore, all these years later, I still follow her tradition of baking delicious Christmas treats during the third week of Advent in preparation for the birth of Jesus. Although I only have one true recipe from her, because we stopped her at every handful of flour or sugar and put it into a measuring cup, I continue to make that one and have created my own baking traditions and mimic others with new recipes. During my baking days, I pause to reflect on my Nanna and feel her presence as I scurry about my kitchen. She taught me well that joy and love are not ingredients you physically add to the recipe, but those ingredients are infused into the recipe by the one who bakes. Every Christmas, I prepare for the birth of Jesus and wait with Mary the same way my Nanna showed me.
As we head into the fourth week of Advent, reflect on what family traditions were passed along to you. Have you kept these traditions? Or have you created space for the new? Or maybe you have blended the old with the new. In this time, as we anticipate the birth of Jesus, the One who brought the Holy Spirit and fire of Baptism, remember to infuse joy and love into your days and share it with others.
Together, as we prepare for the birth of Jesus, let us Rejoice in the journey to make all things new in Christ as we wait with Mary through Advent.
Rejoice! The Lord is near. May your hearts be filled with wonder and grace.
— Jean Santopatre, Pastoral Associate