Friday, April 6, 2012

Blessed Lamb Cake

In the midst of this Easter weekend, I'm reminded of the family rituals that linger in spite of significant changes in my life.  Since I am no longer a practicing Catholic, my Holy Week schedule is pretty light.  No Palm Sunday procession. No stations of the cross each day.  No Holy Thursday service where we imitate the washing of the disciples feet.  No Good Friday services with the passion play and the congregants reading the parts of the mob (shouting "crucify him").  No snuffing of candles and stripping the altar of all decoration to honor the time of Jesus laying in the tomb.  No Holy Saturday plans to go to church with our lamb cake and jelly beans, to be blessed by the priest, in preparation for our Easter celebration of Jesus' rising from the dead.  So many things that aren't a part of my life or my spiritual practice anymore.

And yet today, I am thinking about all of these things.  I am remembering the house rules of no electronics on Good Friday afternoon - my mother's way of observing the huge sacrifice that was done for us.  Our home was silent, dark, and without the comforting hum of most everything except our refrigerator.  I'm preparing for a big Easter dinner and gathering the ingredients for my lamb cake.  Why?  It's strange to me and also very comforting.  Every Easter since I left my parents' home I have had lamb cake.  A couple times it was mailed to me by my mom.  Other times the cake was purchased at a chain store bakery.  For the last decade, I have made my own, in my very own, lamb cake mold.

Anyone who has ever had Easter with me knows that eating the lamb cake is NOT my favorite thing.  It doesn't really rank very high on the yummy cake chart.  I make the cake and it sits on the table as a little Easter centerpiece, surrounded by jelly beans and green cellophane grass and I feel happy.  I've never been sure why but I think it's because it was always the one "nice" activity of the otherwise scary and confusing holy week.  All week long I would be told the litany of abuses and betrayals and outright torture that makes up the details of Jesus' last days.  It was vivid and brutal and seemingly without end.  On Saturday morning when we returned to church to have our cake blessed, there were no gruesome stories.  There were prayers and holy water sprinkled about and there were wonderful smells.  Other families brought their eggs, fancy breads, and even hams.  I was never sure how it related to Jesus' death and resurrection but I was grateful for the reprieve. 

Why have I let go of so much that was important to my family as a child and embrace other elements so fiercely?  As I've gotten older, I realize how few people there are that share these holy week/lamb cake memories with me.  Maybe the lamb cake is just one of the threads I'm not willing to cut -one of the threads that ties me to my unique family and keeps me a part of them no matter how much I change.

What's your lamb cake?
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  1. Lamb cake is one of my favorite childhood memories but not part of my adult life. It does remind me of the excitement leading up to Easter brunch and also the silliness and fun inserted into an otherwise fairly dark holiday. Something about that funny looking cake made me smile.

    My lamb cake is lighting all the candles in our house on Christmas eve. Growing up we would do this after midnight mass while breakfast (yes breakfast at 1:30 in the morning) was being prepared and then eat by candle light. I believe the origin was related to lighting the way for the baby Jesus's birth and somehow to a Saint celebrated in Poland (I remember a yellowed newspaper clipping my mother saved of my aunt dressed in a white gown, about age 10, wearing a wreath of candles on her head that made it into their local paper in LaPorte, IN).

    We don't got to midnight mass, we don't open presents on Christmas eve, we aren't Christian, and aren't celebrating the birth of Jesus as much as we are celebrating our love and affection for each other, our family, and our friends. Regardless of the lack of context we still have breakfast for dinner on christmas eve and we light every single candle in the house and have dinner by candlelight. My kids don't really know why beyond that their dad did it growing up but I think what sticks with them about this, that stuck with me, is the tradition and the comfort in marking some special days during the year. Lamb cake to one, candles and scrambled eggs to another...they are all just symbols that today is a special day marked by this special ritual I can count on every year.

    A little ritual is nice in this face paced and always changing life.

  2. I think your refering to St. Lucia, she wore a wreath of candles on her head and walked through the catacombs. It was somehow connected to the early winter solstice celebrations. I would like to make more and different types of "special days marked by a special ritual".

  3. One of my lamb cakes is eating lefse at Christmas (I've ditched the lutefiske). The Scandinavian side of my family live in Oregon and I live in Chicago so I am thankful to you Lisa for teaching me how to make lefse and giving me my own lefse flipper made out of a measuring stick. I am also happy to live near Andersonville where I can get Swedish sausage and lefse at the Swedish deli. I feel connected to relatives who lived in sod houses in South Dakota when I eat lefse - I have a great picture of a relative in a black dress on cross country skis in South Dakota (1800s). I'm sure she ate lefse!

  4. Gotta love that lefse!
    -SI from SD