Every year, perhaps since time began (at least at Trinity) the Sunday School Advent/Christmas program has been an opportunity for members to gather hats and mittens to give to those in our neighborhood who need them. A Christmas tree in the Chapel serves as the collection point. Some of the gatherers have been holding onto their hats and mittens since the previous January, having bought them during the post-Christmas sales. Once in a while Trinity kids, some of whom may not have hats and mittens of their own quite yet, fight over who gets to put the hats and mittens on the tree. By the end of the day the tree, as scrawny as it may be, is covered with warm hats and mittens, all bought and shared with love. Some are hand knit by members. It can be a colorful sight to behold.
As people pack up the left-over food from the pot-luck and the scenery for the pageant gets put away, the mittens are put in grocery bags to be taken, at the earliest convenience, to the Brian Coyle Community Center in the neighborhood. The thinking is that it would be wonderful, perfect if the hats and mittens could be handed out right before Christmas. After all, who wants to spend Christmas without warm hats and mittens? What child doesn’t love finding colorful hats and mittens under the tree?
Except for one thing. After talking with Abdirahman to find a time for me to deliver them it turns out the best time to drop off the hats and mittens is, in fact, for the Fire and Ice event on January 23rd. The Fire and Ice event is a winter safety event for people of the neighborhood, especially those who are new to Minnesota. It is a chance to learn about how dress in cold weather and how not to fall on the ice and snow,
The people attending are mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia. Many have never experienced winter before, so it is not unusual to see recent immigrants out and about in the neighborhood on a cold winter day with bare hands and wearing sandals.
They also are almost all Muslim. Which means Christmas is a non-event for them. They see all of the consumerism, the frantic shopping and preparing around them, but the day itself is not important. What is important is the event scheduled for January 23rd, where they will learn how to stay safe in their new home.
So, the bag sat in my office until January 22. That is when Abdirahman suggested they be delivered since he has no storage room in his office. A number of people who stopped in my office asked why the mittens are still there. It is, after all, more than a month since they were collected and Christmas is long forgotten. We are long past the twelfth day of Christmas.
No one was upset or angry, only surprised. It was to be as much about Christmas as it was about providing warm hats and mittens. For us. But not for the people of the neighborhood. For those who would receive them it was about the hats and mittens that would keep them a bit warmer and safer in the cold days ahead.
For over a month every time I walked in or out of my office I saw the bag sitting there, reminding me of the amazing place in which Trinity finds itself. A place where language and culture often do not mesh, where even the calendars that guide the rhythms of our lives are different. Even though the hats and mittens were a part of the frantic pace of the time-before-Christmas for us, they were simply much needed gifts for those who received them on January 23rd.
The Christmas hype and consumerism were long over with and the gifts were received as pure gifts. The true meaning of Christmas happened in spite of us, in spite of the calendar. In the midst of people who were simply grateful to have warm hats and mittens.
Original Journal entry date: 2/2/15
© 2019 Jane Buckley-Farlee. All rights reserved.