For as long as I can remember, Christmas is complete only when the Aunt Betty Cake is ready. My Aunt Betty used to come to the house with the cake in hand: tall angel food cake, frosted in brilliant white whipped cream and filled with strawberries and cream. It was probably non-dairy whipped topping and sweetened frozen strawberries with some red jello to add color, but it was perfection on a plate. Since moving away, I have tried to keep the tradition alive. I prefer real whipped cream and unsweetened strawberries, but I've tried not to mess too much with the presentation.
Last year was the first time I tried a gluten free angel food cake. It was okay, and it held together--sort of. However, it still resembled Aunt Betty cake, so we went with it. I tried a different flour this year. It rose beautifully and browned to the perfect shade of gold. I thought I had found the answer. Until I turned the cake upside down to cool. Angel Food cake is so light that it must cool inverted in order to stay fluffy. It's always a challenge to find the right balance with stability so that the whole thing doesn't topple over. My mom used Pepsi bottles, but I don't drink much soda--and glass bottles are pretty hard to find. I did find a bottle and put a drumstick in it (the benefit of a percussionist in the family) and carefully inverted my cake. I went to the basement for maybe two minutes and when I returned I discovered that I would have no trouble removing the cake from the pan--because it had already removed itself. The pan was still carefully balanced on the bottle, but the cake was on the counter: splat. Now two inches high instead of four, I put the now-dense-not-airy cake on a rack and racked my brain for ideas. In the meantime, I went to the store for the requisite unsweetened strawberries and whipping cream. Whipping cream, check. Strawberries---nope. Okay then, cherries are red...
As the cake cooled, it got denser and flatter. It bottomed out at about 1.5 inches high. Still the color was pretty, and it did taste good. So, making the best of it, I decided to layer it into a trifle. One challenge: no trifle bowl. And the neighbor from whom I borrow such luxuries was not home. ARGH. Brian and Corinne just wanted in a bowl, but I had to make a good presentation in Aunt Betty's name. I thought about wine glasses, but then remembered the candle holders from IKEA and Wal Mart. I buy candles in heavy glass jars and then used the jars as small glasses. For $2 each, I get a lot of use from them! Today, they became containers for individual servings of Aunt Betty trifle.
The Aunt Betty cake trauma was just one of many traditions that are in flux this year. It is the first year Carrie is not with us. She and Mike are creating their own traditions, which is as it should be. But it's weird. It doesn't feel like Christmas without the whole family here. Our usual day-before-Thanksgiving-kick-off-Christmas trip to Stone Mountain didn't happen. We didn't take our annual family picture, so Christmas cards were late (I had to get a little creative and it took a bit of time.) I did all my shopping on line (YEA), so no trips to the mall. Working at the bakery meant not being home to fill the air with fragrances of food. Shoulder surgery slowed me down enough that decorating got done, but not really enjoyed. I didn't have my classic Christmas movies marathons. (I haven't seen any of the Rankin Bass classics!) The shorter season (thanks to a late Thanksgiving) made everything feel rushed. It's going to be over before I really rest in it.
The I Ching says that the only constant is change. This year feels like a year of major changes, culminating in a holiday so altered I feel a little lost. Still, I know the FUNDAMENTAL thing about Christmas doesn't change. Culturally Christmas has become about friends, family, presents, chaos, music, candles, and decorations hung everywhere. Christmas really began much differently: a teenage girl and her husband desperately search for lodging in an unfamiliar town as her labor pains begin. Mary surely would have preferred to be home with her mother and familiar sights and smells for this birth, but Caesar made his decree, and so there they were, Mary and Joseph, taking the least likely place to rest for the night. There was nothing familiar about the stable of a stranger. No family gathered around to welcome the new life. Joseph, certainly out of his comfort zone, was Mary's sole companion.
To the outsider, Mary and Joseph's situation looked to be just bad luck. Caesar's decree, Mary's pregnancy, Joseph's lineage requiring a 60 mile trek, and a crowded little town just south of Jerusalem, all seemed to conspired to be the worst possible situation. But, Paul wrote in Galatians 4: "...when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons."
Fullness of time. God knew all the circumstances from the beginning of time that would be required for the Messiah to be born in accordance with the prophetic scriptures. He chose that particular couple to be the parents of His only Son who would ultimately redeem the world. He knew that they would not be so tied to tradition and the familiar that they could not obey God when He called them to do the irrational and unthinkable. And they did. They put aside all that was familiar and comfortable to obey the Father.
In my own "fullness of time" traditions change. The memory of them is sweet, but as the family grows up, it also grows away, forming individual families making their own traditions and memories. "The more things change, the more they stay the same," the adage says. Changes in family tradition are to be expected. We may not be under one roof, but we are bound together by blood. Change forces creativity in making memories. It beckons me to recognize that which is immutable, immortal, and invisible: the God who Came, the Incarnation, the One who came in the fullness of time for redemption and the One who will come again in Glory.