It’s December. While “You Better Watch Out,” and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” blare at shoppers from mall loudspeakers, I find comfort in the traditions of candlelight shining in the darkness and friendships that bring warmth to this cold season.
I am celebrating Advent, which is a quiet and reflective season. During Advent, Christians light candles (first one, then two, then three, then four) on the four Sundays preceding Christmas. In Advent we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, a tiny child of poor parents in an occupied territory long, long ago.
Or maybe we prepare for the in-breaking of the Holy into our hurting and suffering world. As young Mary is said to have sung, “God will bring down the mighty from their seats… and fill the hungry with good things.” How many yearn to see this prophesy fulfilled?
Or perhaps we await with longing the experience of the Divine Presence bringing peace, hope, love and joy into our own hearts, relationships, homes and communities. These gifts are not something we can buy at the store, nor something I can achieve by accomplishing all the innumerable tasks on my sheaf of lists.
How do we prepare for this gift of God’s presence with us? Our culture says.. well, you know what it says. Shop! Decorate! Socialize! Eat, Drink and be Merry! And often I heed that message, swept along in tides of memory and deep longings. But I am looking for a deeper experience of meaning and emotion.
One of my favorite ways to prepare and celebrate this season is to spend a morning with my dear friend Vickie making Elna’s Tarts. We’ve been doing this together for years – maybe ten or even twenty years, since our children were young. Elna’s Tarts are a Swedish Christmas Cake, the recipe for which my Grandmother “Mibs” learned from a Swedish cook named Elna. A highlight of my childhood Christmas was the arrival of a tin of these buttery morsels. Each of us got one or maybe two tarts each year and their scarcity heightened our enjoyment.
The dough for Elna’s Tarts consists of 3 cups of butter (can you believe it???), flour and sugar, an egg and almond extract. You refrigerate the dough overnight so it won’t be sticky when you roll it out and cut out pieces to press into the little metal tins (Mormatt in Swedish). A little dab of jam goes in the middle, then another piece of dough is pressed on top of each cake. After they bake for 20 minutes, you have to knock the cakes out of the hot tins onto your dishtowel-covered hands and cool them on a rack. Then comes the fun of decorating them with a glaze of milk and confectioner’s sugar and little candied cherry slivers or nuts and cranberries. As we decorate, Vickie and I inevitably exclaim “They’re so cute!”
And so tast,y too. Vickie and I share one every year, as there is always a tart that breaks being removed from its tin. I find as I get older that I must restrict my intake because with all that butter those tarts are very rich! But I enjoy sending a small number to family and friends and I hope they too will experience the smell and taste of Elna’s Tarts as a precious reminder of the loving ties that bind us, and of the goodness of being alive.