Memories of Christmas Offerings

22 Dec

Famous Graham Cracker Cream Pie

According to the website, Judaism 101, “A peace offering is an offering expressing thanks or gratitude to G-d for His bounties and mercies. The Hebrew term for this type of offering is zebach sh’lamim (or sometimes just sh’lamim), which is related to the word shalom, meaning “peace” or “whole.” A representative portion of the offering is burnt on the altar, a portion is given to the kohanim, and the rest is eaten by the offerer and his family; thus, everyone gets a part of this offering.”

In the picture above, my Aunt Alice, is proffering her graham cracker cream pie to my father.  This act of preparing a custard pie was a longstanding tradition when the Jack Mapes family and the Barth Mapes family got together for Christmas.  She also brought homemade dinner rolls, six or seven different kinds of cookies, and, once she had arrived, she made ham gravy from ketchup and a ham dripping roux.  We were not really a turkey family, although we ate it dutifully on Thanksgiving.  Uncle Jack had had to eat too much mutton when he was overseas during World War II, so it was roast beef or ham and ham often won out.  But the pie was not about us; it was a special offering from her to my Dad that he always looked forward to, and, in a way, helped to symbolize their relationship.  She had been in my father’s life for a long time, partly because she was my uncle’s wife and my uncle was older than my father, and partly because she and my father grew up in the same town.  They had shared many things, including the death of my grandmother.

In thinking of Christmas offerings, I am harking back to the “burnt offerings” that are mentioned in the Bible, and, more specifically, to the peace offerings that are included therein and that reflect thanksgiving rather than atonement.  The different kinds of food and drink that are offered up at Christmas have a special quality that I don’t associate with other holidays–there is a sense of lightness  in the celebration that doesn’t seem as evident at other times during the year.  In the religious sense, it may be because atonement is not as associated with Christmas, as it is with Easter.

Some of the Christmas food that has gained that sacrificial aspect in our family over the years would include the oranges that regularly appeared in the toes of our stockings.  They were important to our parents because during the Depression they had received oranges on Christmas as a special treat.  Of course, oranges were not unique to Christmastime for us, but we could appreciate their significance nonetheless.

Speaking of one fruit leads to another–that of the lemon juice in Harlan Brumsted’s whiskey sours.   On Christmas Eve it was the Mapes-Brumsted tradition to meet at the Brumsted house before going to the Christmas Eve service.  We would get together in their living room on White Park Road, an elegantly appointed house with many antiques and high ceilings,  in our Christmas best, and Harlan would offer a repertoire of drinks, including my beloved whiskey sours.  The men would eat creamed herring and we would all partake of Sukey’s cookies.  Sukey had been one of Mom’s sorority sisters, in fact, her Big Sister, and they had become best friends when they both stayed on in Ithaca.  We would also exchange food as Christmas presents: Sukey would give us a breakfast roll made from scratch and we would present her and her husband with already-sectioned grapefruit from Florida and apricot bars.  The exchange bespoke a token of the connection between the families that had grown over many years.  In addition to the relationship between the wives, two of the Brumsted’s children were the same age as my brother and me and Jim, the one who was the same age, became a good friend of my brother’s.  The two women were at eye level.

My father has been dead two years and my Aunt Alice has dementia and lives in Hawaii with her son John and his wife.  She may not remember the pie tradition, but I do, and I remember the spirit in which it was offered.

6 Responses to “Memories of Christmas Offerings”

  1. Vickey A. Beaver December 22, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Very touching.

  2. claireaperez December 22, 2011 at 9:03 pm #


    I really like this blog post…the symbolism of special, one of a kind foods & the bitter sweetness of the memories. If we could all stay just a little bit longer. Maybe I’ll make whiskey sours soon.

    • I would love to have one right now. Do you think I need to come up with a sequeway between the second to the last and the last paragraph? My friend Tom in Mpls wants to know if he can write a story on my blog. Wouldn’t he have to get his own account?

  3. Tom Judge December 22, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    Great story Katharyn,

    Sometime when you find some free time, would you please tell me how I can enter a story or two on this blog……..I think this is a blog?

    I’ve tried and failed. It was a while back and I have since forgotten what I had tried.

    Thank you and may you have the best holidays ever.


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