Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What is a Smorgasbord Anyway? And Why Do Some Churches Have Them?

Last week my parents' congregation hosted their annual Swedish Smorgasbord, an event I have never entirely understood.  I didn't completely grow up in that congregation, we moved there when I was in 8th grade, so this is not a tradition I have from young childhood.

When we, Missouri-transplants of predominately German heritage, moved to Minnesota, Swedish and Scandinavian traditions were completely foreign. Lefse was an unknown word, lutefisk is still something that I refuse to try.  My family's entire understand of Scandinavian customs came from the occasional listening to Prairie Home Companion and the Swedish Chef. While we loved the congregation we became members of, and which my parents are still faithful worshipers at, there were many ways those first few years in which we, the non-Swedes or Norwegians, were outsiders.  

Today, almost 20 years later, that Swedish Smorgasbord, still exist in my parents' congregation. The attendance has declined in recent years and there are very few people smorgasborders under the age of 50, even though on a typical Sunday, that demographic is strongly represented.  Now there are many reasons for that  including the lack of childcare, the event is on the pricey side, it is not a "come and go" event.  But I believe one of the main reasons is that the event is so strongly tied to a specific cultural heritage.

Millennials and Gen Xers are more than willing to claim a cultural heritage when alcohol is involved, just look at a bar on any St. Patrick's Day or Cinco De Mayo or a beer garden at an Octoberfest. However in general everyday life, for Millenials and Gen Xers of European decent, it doesn't matter what your cultural heritage is.  We no longer live in certain parts of a city because we are Italian, Irish, or Swedish.  We no longer attend or are unwelcome at a specific congregation or even denomination because of what country our ancestors came from.  We are just as likely to be able to eat, enjoy and cook good Italian food as we are German, Mexican or Thai.  And for many of us, myself included, we are too many generations removed from our ancestors who came over from Europe that we have no particular ties to that cultural heritage or traditions.  We were raised in a society that valued diversity, called our country the "great melting pot" and mashed together Christmas traditions from all cultural heritage.

So when something is advertised as a Swedish Smorgasbord or a Portuguese Festival, it almost always creates an "in-group" and and "out-group".  The in-group knows what foods are served, what customs are maintained, and even what even happens at said event (it is not like the word smorgasbord is used in one's normal vernacular).  And if you are part of the out-group, unless someone takes the time to personally invite and explain, you feel uninvited and unwelcomed because you were not born into the in-group.

Then why are churches still holding onto heritage festivals?  Well some people really enjoy them, especially immigrants and children of immigrants as it reminds them of their childhoods. Then we need to realize that these events are not for all people, and cater the event for them and not complain that each year the age group is getting older and the number in attendance is getting smaller.

Or we can use these cultural heritage events as a foundation, take the best traditions from that event, do away with what is not working (really the world never needs to smell lutefisk again), and open up the event to include traditions from all those who are now represented in the congregation.  Why can't lefse be served next to bangers and mash and a green curry and then have flan for dessert?  Call the event a Christmas Festival.

Or again us the current event as a foundation, but use it as a teaching tool and specifically invite people to come and learn.  Not come and be like us, but come and learn about one specific cultural heritage. Then do again next month or next year but focus on a different heritage. Though this would need to be a less formal and more of a give an take so people can ask questions about where a tradition comes from or why it is important a particular person.

Regardless of what a church does, can we please all agree to get rid of the lutefisk? 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Assembling the Stockings

In 2013, I completed my 13th and 14th needle-pointed Christmas stockings.  I have made them for Bob and myself, friends, and biological and claimed nieces and nephews.  This year I finished Owen's stocking, a Heaven and Earth Design of the Little Drummer Boy, and Logan's stocking, "Santa's Animals Parade" from Dimensions.
Logan's left, Owen's Right

While I love the stitching part of making the stockings, it is always a little terrifying to actually sew them together.  And since often on one of the discussion boards on Ravelry people ask about how to sew stockings together, for my future reference and yours, here is a tutorial on how to sew a needle-pointed or cross stitch Christmas stocking.  

First your supplies: beside your complete top, you will need a cotton fabric for the lining and a fleece or flannel for the backing.  For most of the stockings I have made I have purchased 1/3 of a yard for each stocking's lining and 1/3 of a yard for the backing (though I can normally get 2-3 backings out of one piece).  All the fabric, including the completed tops should be ironed.  You also need coordinating thread, straight pins, a fabric pencil, ruler and a sewing machine.  A rotary cutter and cutting mat are helpful, but not necessary. 
Fabric all gathered
Step 1: Cut your completed stitched piece. The Scariest! Cut your competed top!  (Take a deep breath first, and it will be okay).  I like to have the edge of the pattern be the edge of the stocking, other people want a board of plain fabric - decide what you want.  If you sew on the edge of the pattern cut about a 1/4 to 1/2 board around the pattern.  If you want a boarder, plan accordingly. 
Apparently I can't cut and take non-blurry pictures at the same time.
Step 2: Cut the rest of your fabric. Use your top as a stencil to cut your lining and your backing.  You want two pieces of your lining one with the toe facing the same way as the stocking, one the reverse.  And if there is a right side to your backing fabric, you want the toe to face the opposite direction of your top. I normally cut both linings together by folding the fabric over. 

So your pieces should look like this when laid out in a line. 
Facing up: Correct side, reverse side, correct side, reverse side

Step 3: Get your hanger ready. If I forget a step, this is that step.  You can use ribbon, yarn, corded thread, or fabric.  Personally I use a piece of that backing fabric, cut to be 1 inch wide and 5-6 inches long.  If using fleece you want to sew around the edge of the fabric to keep from fraying. 
Almost forgot to take a picture of the hanger.
Step 4: Pin and sew the tops. You want to lay your top with the reserve facing lining correct sides facing each other and pin the tops together.  Then do the same for the backing and the other lining piece.  So they look like this. 
Wrong sides together
 You then want to line up the tops and draw a line on the backing and lining so you know where to sew.

Before sewing, peel back the corner of the backing piece on the heel side and add your hanger.  It should be placed about 1 inch from the edge and face toward the toe.  
A little tab 
Now you can sew those two straight lines.

After sewing, you can trim the excess fabric and your pieces should look like this:
Starting to come together.

Soon and Very Soon
Step 5: Pin and sew the stocking  Lay your stocking out so the top and the backing are aligned and so do your linings, correct sides facing each other.   


Pin the pieces together around the edge of your stocking
Sew, leaving about a 4 inch gap between the heal and toe of the lining. 

Step 6: Trim and Flip Trip off the excess fabric leaving just a small edging near the sewn seam. 
Almost there

Then bring the right side out, by pushing the sock through the 4 inch hole you left in the lining.  
Should I just leave it like this?
Step 7: Hand sew Sew up the 4 inch hole and then push the lining into the stocking
What type of creature wears a sock like that?
Feed Me!


Step 8: Hang and Enjoy!
No mantle here - Bookshelves will have to do. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Spreading Christmas Cheer

December's Newsletter article: 

The movie Elf, one of my personal Christmas-movie favorites, has the line “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.” That line becomes essential to the plot as Santa is trying to escape the Central Park Rangers when one of the characters starts singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town .  Soon the crowd gathered, along with people around the city who are watching on TV start singing along and Santa’s sled, which is powered by Christmas Cheer, is able to take off. (Watch the scene here

While Elf is a work of fiction, the movie does have it right that Christmas Cheer spreads and sometimes it can spread quickly and like wildfire.  And yes, a good carol sing spreads that cheer,  (you can easily be sucked into YouTube for hours by looking at Christmas flash mobs and here is a good one to start with) but there are other ways to spread that cheer, and the other ways are often spread that cheer in more long-lasting ways. 

We all know that December can be a time of joy, of hope, of anticipation, of peace, of love, of preparation, of celebration, all due to Christ’s birth. However for believers and unbelievers alike, December can be a time of stress, of frustration, of mourning, of loneliness, of despair and of depression because one is either trying to make things too perfect or because one remembers Christmases past and realizes that their life circumstances are different. 

Sometimes the best way to spread Christmas Cheer is not to sing loud but to love deeply – to care for our neighbors with a Christ-like love for all of our fellow human beings.   Sometimes the best way to spread 
Christmas Cheer is to give of ourselves more – to not waste time and money trying to purchase the perfect gift but to spend time with someone who is feeling alone or stressed this season.  Sometimes the best way to spread Christmas Cheer is to not be perfect – if you allow yourself to be who you are and not try to live up to a movie version of what Christmas needs to be like, you will be less stressed. And if you are less stressed others around you will be less stressed.

But really above all, the best way to spread Christmas Cheer is to worship fully – to take time to pray, to sing carols (preferably not just the ones about Santa), to read scripture, to reflect on where God is in your life today. 

This Advent, this Christmas, spend time spreading Christmas Cheer so that everyone can celebrate Christ’s birth with hope, love, joy and peace, not stress, loneliness or despair.

~Pastor Becca