By Chantelle Foster

The women in my life went all out for Christmas. Their houses were transformed with Christmas decorations. The breadth of Christmas décor didn’t stop with trees, stockings and wreaths. It extended to every type of surface in our homes including the dishes we used for meals.  When the “Cuthbertson Original Christmas Tree” china appeared on our family table, I was filled with wonder, excitement, and expectation. I knew Christmas had arrived!

My Grandma Anabel, Aunt Gayla, and my mom all had the same Christmas china. Each year, we had several family Christmas gatherings. As we were dressing up in our nice clothes for Christmas Eve dinner, it was common for the house phone to ring and the party hostess to say, “Bring 6 of your plates and 4 glasses tonight.” Since the three of them had the same china pattern, it was easy to expand the set to fit the size of our gathering. Plates always miraculously showed up so even the kids’ table had Christmas china.

While the Cuthbertson china was a big part of our Christmas celebrations, it was also symbolic to me of “family.” I may have a bit more appreciation for the idea of extended family because I was invited into the Soderstrom family at about age 7.  I’d been through the disintegration of my original family and was slowly opening myself up to a new family I was being drawn into.

My mom was giving all she had to provide stability to my sister and me. She was working full-time, going to night school, and providing a home for us. For her as a single mom of two young girls, I imagine it was an overwhelming time. My mom’s mother died when I was a baby. Mom’s own family of origin had drastically changed and left her with little support. On my birth-father’s side, my favorite grandfather had died when I was 3, leaving his family quite devastated. The fabric of my family was unraveling.

When my mom remarried, I was officially adopted into the Soderstrom family. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the structure I was gaining. As I’ve matured, I’ve realized how formative that was for me. My life had been fashioned to meet immediate needs. Dinner was about feeding two hungry little girls just picked up from daycare as quickly and affordably as possible.

I began eating Sunday dinners with family. Meals were thoughtfully planned and prepared. Meals were served on decorated tables that were set with plates, napkins, utensils, and stemware.  I looked forward to birthdays, holidays, and vacations with aunts and uncles and grandparents. I inherited family traditions. Mealtime became sacred time with family. Mealtime was the place I learned love for family and for strangers. There were always enough plates and enough food for an extra guest. This was especially true at Christmas time when our Cuthbertson china was used.

When I married Mark, I began my own collection of Christmas china.  I chose the same Cuthbertson pattern. I wanted to keep the connection with the other strong and beautiful women who surrounded me with love. I longed to extend that love to my own family. In a fast-food culture, I hope to provide the stability and depth I received.

These days, Christmas Eve for us doesn’t look like extended family all dressed up and eating a buffet dinner of shrimp cocktail and champagne. It doesn’t include opening gifts while waiting for midnight mass. It has taken on its own beauty. It looks more like my Acts 2 family coming in shifts to three different worship services aglow with candlelight at 3:30, 5:00, and 7:00pm. It looks like a quick dinner of queso and party meatballs in the church kitchen surrounded by those who hope to honor Jesus and serve along side me. It looks like Mark and me going home tired but filled with love and joy.

When John Mark, Noah, Mark and I get around on Christmas morning to celebrate Jesus’ birthday with brunch in our pj’s, you can be assured it is served on Christmas china- a symbol to me of family, hope and redemption.

Chantelle Foster

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