Don’t hang the greens, cook ’em!

Published 3:07 pm Tuesday, December 2, 2008

There’s no other time of the year like these few weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. To that I say, “Thank the Lord.”

It’s not that I am some Bah Humbug Scrooge type; I love this time of the year. However, one would have to admit that the frenetic pace of this holiday season has all of us going, going, going, until we are almost gone.

If it were not so full of great songs, bright decorations, cheerful activity, delicious food and a generosity that is unmatched at any other time of the year, we might not make it. But, because it does have all those unique to the season qualities, we get through it and probably find some time to enjoy it.

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Churches are particularly busy during this time of the year. Most have some kind of Thanksgiving meal to kick off the holidays. Then there are the musical cantatas and children’s programs that, hopefully, remind us of the real reason for the season.

It’s always a joy to hear those great Christmas hymns sung by practiced choirs. There is no beginning to a story that moves me quite like those words from the authorized King James Version of the Bible, “And it came to pass in those days”  (Luke 2:1).

I usually read the New International Version of the Bible, but when it comes to classic scriptures like the Christmas story or the 23rd Psalm, I heard them first in the KJV, and there’s nothing that compares with its eloquence.

Make a manger scene with Joseph and Mary with a homemade wooden cradle surrounded by some straw. Put a little baby in the cradle. Dress up the children in some bathrobes and fake beards. Have three of them come down as the wise men. Put one on a ladder with some tin foil wings. If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood must be wet.

This week thousands and millions of churches throughout the world are beginning to celebrate the Advent season. That is the season of preparation for the coming birthday of the King and it culminates on Christmas Day.

A major part of the celebration is the decoration of the church. Since the first Sunday in Advent was last Sunday, so close to the Thanksgiving holiday, my churches were not able to decorate fully for the season, so we will gather on a night this week to prepare our sanctuaries for this special time of the year.

Some churches have a special service where the church is decorated. The service is called the “Hanging of the Greens.” The service brings to our minds many of the traditional elements of Christmas decorations.

For instance, the use branches from evergreens. Evergreens are trees like cedars, pines or firs. They never change their colors and are always green. In addition, there are evergreen plants or bushes like holly. The evergreen nature of these trees and plants symbolizes the everlasting life that we associate with our faith in Christ.

In addition to the trees and plants remaining green in color to symbolize everlasting life, there is the thought that we serve a God with an unchanging nature.

I appreciate the use of evergreens in the decorating of our churches and homes. My natural senses of sight and smell are heightened by the green cedar and pine that we can find naturally in our area.

I must admit, I didn’t grow up celebrating a service like the Hanging of the Greens. My little country church may have had that service and I was simply too young to remember. Now, as pastor, I welcome all opportunities to come together as people of God.

But I thought of something else the first time I heard of this service. I thought to myself and am very glad I didn’t say it out loud, but I thought who would want to hang turnips in the church? Of course I know all about pine trees and cedars, but I never thought of them as anything other than trees. I didn’t call them or their branches greens.

Greens have to do with turnips, collards or mustard, maybe spinach. And one doesn’t hang them. One cuts them or pulls them, takes the stem out of the middle, washes them enough times to get the grit out and then cooks them for as long as it takes to get them tender.

On our table at Thanksgiving, we had collards and mustard. My daddy is one of the best at cooking greens and cooked the collards with meat and the mustard with bacon grease. Both had plenty of seasoning and, besides my grandson, Cam, who has never met a vegetable he liked, everyone had a heaping helping.

It also didn’t hurt that my sister spent at least an hour over the skillet pan frying tablespoons of liquid cornmeal dropped into some hot grease. That was seasoned just right, too, although some might have accused her of putting too much salt into the mixture. I did not accuse her. The cornbread was just right!

There were plenty of other dishes on that Thanksgiving table and much was eaten. However, the greatest oohs and aahs might have come from the combination of greens and cornbread. How’s that for fancy eating?

As churches gather to praise God and prepare for this precious holiday season, I’ll enjoy the hanging of the greens. The boughs will blend wonderfully with the other colors of the sanctuary and the fragrance of the foliage will lift my spirit with pleasure.

But in the back of my mind, I’ll be thinking of another kind of green. The boiling type that goes from bright green to dark and the fragrance goes all over the house (unfortunately in the case of collards). Here’s hoping for a green Christmas of all kinds.