Old Ways/New Ways Part 6

Christmas on Oakley Street

December 25, 2000

About ten PM on Christmas Eve we could hear them coming. Drums and trumpets, a bagpipe, many voices raised in song, O Come All Ye Faithful, then We wish you a merry Christmas, the First Noel, Silent Night, a big crowd of people coming down Truman. Outside on Oakley Street, people were walking up the street, carrying candles and torches, to join in the procession. The route had been planned by the Northeast Ministerial Alliance, to go through the entire neighborhood to maximize participation. Little Ashleigh, dressed like an angel for the Christmas pageant at church, was already at the front door, inviting us to hurry as if we didn't they would leave us behind.

As we passed churches -- Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Assembly of God, some people would drop out and go in, our group ended at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church, where we entered a church gaily decorated with holly and evergreen branches, lit with candles and torches where we had more singing and listening to choirs while we awaited the hour of midnight. At midnight, the bells began to ring, and the organ and small orchestra began to play (courtesy of a couple of gallons of gas and a generator outside) and we sang Adeste Fideles as the procession entered the Church, led by six acolytes with a smoking censor, processional cross and torches. We paused between the second and third verse and the priest blessed the Creche, finishing the third and fourth verses with a loud crescendo of bells, organ, trumpets, and cymbals.

It seemed so normal -- the golden vestments, the decorations, the music -- that it was hard to comprehend how different things were now compared to last year. But we still had Christmas, and what a joyous time it was.

We had been preparing since November. After working frenetically through the spring, summer, and fall, we discovered these new ways also provided extended times for a change of pace, when work wasn't so hard, and what needed to be done could be passed around. We weren't working 9 to 5 wage slave jobs anymore, and so when the winter's food is laid into the pantry, and the fuel is gathered for the winter, a community can afford to shift its focus from survival to other things. Like parties, celebrations, and holidays. And talking, reflecting, thinking.

In the late spring, the Catholic Bishops of Missouri had restored the ancient practice of regular fasting and abstinence as a matter of Church discipline, doing so in conjunction with a general call from the leaders of the Jews, Muslims, and Christians to all people of good will. Catholics were called to abstain from meat and dairy products every Wednesday and Friday, and to fast those days, eating only one meal. The ancient pre-Christmas fast had also been restored, and after the first day of Advent, meat and dairy products were banned, except for Sundays, until Christmas. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and the sick were of course exempted. The requirement of abstinence would continue throughout Lent, in addition to the weekly fast days. Translated from religious concepts to survival facts, this one change of a religious discipline meant that on almost half the days of the year (172 out of 365), no meat or dairy products could be consumed by most adults. At the time, it seemed to me, "Well, sounds to me like one of the major results from this will be a much healthier population." And yes, as time went on, we became ever more creative in our food preparations on those days of abstinence, so that the "inconvenience factor" of the fasting almost seemed set aside since we were coming up with such great tasting foods to serve on those days.

The Bishops recognized the spiritual value of fasting, but they and the other religious leaders also saw a community necessity therein. In a society such as ours, which had become very poor, it is sometimes necessary to not eat, or to not eat certain foods, so that supplies can be stretched out through the year, and those who are at special risk can have what they need. This is a particular issue with your pigs, sheep, cattle, chickens, ducks, and rabbits, all of which were being kept in the city for meat and dairy products. If you eat all your chickens, you won't have any more eggs OR chickens, and if you kill your cow, no more meat or milk. I think it's called making a virtue out of a necessity, which is a way of ensuring that the necessity is satisfied.

Thus, by Christmas, we were ready for some feasting, and feast we did on Christmas Day. We had ham and roast chickens, deviled eggs (with homemade mayonnaise), pumpkin and pecan pies, green bean casserole (OK, OK, but it tastes a lot better made with green beans that you canned, mushroom sauce you made, and french fried onions that you french fried), a dressing side dish made with corn bread, biscuits, and various dried vegetables, a variety of pickles and relishes, in other words, a traditional American Christmas dinner. The end of the world may come and go, but Americans are gonna feast on Christmas.

We gave and received gifts, some hand made, some bought or bartered at the Truman Market. A big part of our giving was among households. We gave each family on our street some herb seed packets, including some of the rare plants that we had collected. We received a nice bolt of hand-woven wool cloth from a cooperative of families up the street that was building looms and spinning wheels and trading with farmers for wool and cotton. In the old days, they worked at various minimum wage jobs. Now they are among the leading families of this neighborhood. The cloth is very nice and soft, and most ingeniously colored in a rainbow progression.

We had given them some seeds for dye plants as a gift when they showed up at the Market wanting some hand bills made to announce that they had thread available. We did their handbills for free. We needed a local source for cloth. They in turn had helped provide resources for another cooperative that started raising sheep for wool and meat right here in Blue Valley. There was a lot of this kind of thing going on, growing a new and sustainable economic network, one enterprise at a time, with a lot of mutual support, solidarity, and cooperation.

We carefully unwrapped the packages and saved the wrapping and bows for future use. The days of Christmas being the Big Trash Day of the year are long gone. Many packages were wrapped with actual cloth of some sort or another. I was happy I got two packages wrapped in diapers (fresh and clean, of course). Diapers are about one of the most useful all around pieces of cloth in existence. It's a pity so many people used those disposable diapers in the old days; there was a real sudden scarcity of diapers early on in this. If I could send a message backwards in time to the summer of 1999, it would be, "Buy cloth diapers!"

On the Feast of St. Stephen (the day after Christmas), the Blue Valley Winter Festival kicked into high gear, complete with a Good King Wenceslaus (people from Eastern Europe settled here in the early 1900s, there was an old parish here that had been dedicated to St. Stanislaus) presiding over games, concerts, speeches, dances -- square dancing is back, but like most things, it's evolved a bit, especially in terms of the music, always retaining that Celtic ancestral sound, but there were some new rhythms and harmonies. And quite a few new dance steps have been developed. Swing is also real popular, in fact, there is a type of square dancing that uses swing steps, very aerobic. I sit in on the piano sometimes with a swing ensemble, and we also do a little blues. Anyway, it was kind of like a Christmas-Epiphany (the traditional 12 days of Christmas) Mardis Gras/neighborhood party/medieval revel.

We were drinking the last of the alcohol from the old days, the rums and whiskeys and wines, but we weren't too worried, as just about everybody had jugs of wine and kegs of various kinds of beers, wines, and distilled spirits aging in their basements. When you're making alcohol for fuel, it's not a problem to make alcohol that's primarily for social purposes. So far no sign of revenooers, even though the whole neighborhood was making "shine". We had tasted some of our first whiskey, at the stage when it's raw enough to cure what ail's you, but I'm sure it will be a lot better after it's had a chance to age in the oak barrels we learned how to make at the library.

The whole Kansas City area seemed to be one big festival, in different, very localized manifestations. Down at 18th and Vine a huge Kwanza festival was a going concern, and they truly had the best barbecue and the best jazz. We walked down there one morning and had a great time before heading back in the late afternoon.

So these are a few of the snapshots in our family album of memories of Christmas in the year 2000. It was a time of renewal, and certainly we needed it, because the depths of winter were still ahead of us.

(c) 1998 by Robert Waldrop

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