Grace and peace to you, friends:
I can smell the lutefisk wafting over the hills and barren, snow covered fields of western Wisconsin. I think it is being blown in from northern Minnesota on the latest Alberta Clipper and getting a boost from the Scandinavian populated Twin Cities. It is true about lutefisk that you love it or hate it. Being German and marrying a 3/4 blooded Scandinavian, I, like many before me who have fallen in love with the blond haired beauties, had to go through the Christmas Eve ritual of eating lutefisk at the family dinner. There wasn’t an option to say no. Looking back, I really think it was a test that the Scandinavians devised for those who would want to marry into the family. “If dey can eat da lootefisk…dey must be Oh-kay.” (Lisa’s family really doesn’t talk that way!)
I was a little intimidated when Lisa’s Uncle Pete loaded up his plate with the gelatinous lye soaked cod. He didn’t even have room for a meatball. With gusto and joy he passed the plate around the table, each of the new, future in-laws taking their own portion of this Scandinavian delicacy. (Just a quick aside. I grew up having spaghetti for Christmas Eve dinner! Not very German, but the short story is that I have six brothers and sisters, we all liked spaghetti and it was inexpensive for my family. Most of my brothers/sisters continue this tradition.)
I watched the plate of lutefisk go around the table. Rather than salivating, my mouth felt pretty dry. The closer it got the more sips of water I took. Handel’s Messiah was playing in the background. The candles gave a wonderful glow to the small dining room in south Minneapolis where this very same scene was being played out in home after home. The plate arrived, all eyes turned to me. I gave a weak smile and took as large a serving as I thought I could muster…1/2 a serving spoon. I think Lisa’s grandfather was pleased that I actually took some, but I sensed of little of the joy of Lisa’s uncle leaving the room. I loaded it up with butter and sauce and salt and pepper and whatever else they had on the table. I took a bite. I noticed the “Hallelujah Chorus” playing in the background. I took another and the family conversation got back on track. I took a last bite and asked if I could have more meatballs. Everyone laughed and went on with the meal. I had passed the test. Another family tradition remained intact.
The grace full thing in the whole story is that I was never required to eat lutefisk again! It was merely a rite of passage. I have found out since that even the Scandinavians “love it or leave it”…and that it really is more fun than anything. Lisa has adapted our own family Christmas Eve meal to include “cod au gratin” which really is quite good.
My stress over eating lutefisk for the first time is nothing compared to the many families who find Christmas extraordinarily stressful. Extra travel plans, extra food to prepare, pressure to purchase gifts with less ability to buy, buried family hurts and pains coming to the surface. I hurt today for a number of friends who have lost loved ones this past year, many of them too young to die.
So, in this time of practicing traditions, and high stress, I want to encourage you to relax. Really! Relax. The lasting thing, and the most meaningful thing is not the tradition, or the meal, or the gifts. The lasting thing is the relationships that we have with our families and friends and the relationship that God has invited us into with Jesus. His words are ringing in my ears today…”peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”
Receive it with joy and live in it through the week. You will be blessed.
Have a blessed Christmas celebration!
Seeking to recover original church DNA: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…all the believers were together and had everything in common…they gave to anyone who had need…they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”