Almost five years ago, I stopped eating meat. The reasons for this decision were multifold, and I won’t go into them here because I believe what we eat is a personal choice. During these five years, I have not wavered from my vegetarianism, nor have I been tempted to. And there are many opportunities when I could be, as our household does not share my meat-free diet.
The first Saturday in December, one of the UCC churches in the town where I grew up holds its annual Christmas bazaar. Although my family didn’t belong to this church, when I was a child my mother and grandmother faithfully went to “the Bazaar” every year. The big draw was hand-sewn mice made by the church women. The mice were dressed in costumes — sports teams, local school colors, bakers, skiers, angels — and, as soon as the doors were opened, the waiting women would rush like a rugby scrum to the room where the mice decorated several Christmas trees. It was madness.
Many years passed, I grew up, moved away, got married, moved even farther away, before eventually coming home again last year. My husband and I now find ourselves waiting in the crowd outside the UCC church door on the first Saturday of December. The door opens; there are fewer mice every year, as there are fewer women in the church to make them. Within a couple minutes, the trees are stripped bare and the lines to the cashier-appointed volunteer long.
We spend the next 45 minutes buying sand tarts — another popular item — perusing the used book and white elephant tables before passing the kitchen on our way out. Chili, homemade chicken soup fill the air, and then I spot the “Take Out” menu posted. A third of the way down the list, “Chicken Salad Sandwich $2.75.” Chicken salad sandwiches! My mother and grandmother always came home from the Bazaar with a bag full of these sandwiches and a styrofoam quart container of the soup for our lunch. I begin to salivate.
I tell James to wait, and I hastily fill in the “take out” order form before my vegetarian voice speaks up in opposition. A woman I recognize from my childhood but who doesn’t recognize me hands me the paper bag and wishes me a “Merry Christmas.” I smile and wish her the same. James and I walk to our car, and we eat our lunch even though it’s only 9:50. My husband says it is a good chicken salad sandwich. I agree, but also find myself transported; the recipe hasn’t changed in thirty years. Tradition — so much the centerpiece of this holiday season — can defy logic, commonsense, the everyday. Today I created a new tradition for myself.