Friday, April 22, 2011

23 days to go plus 7 churches

my family has exactly two religious traditions.

1. we don't put the baby Jesus into the creche scene until christmas morning.

2. on the thursday before Easter we visit seven churches.


i'm not going to pretend i know much about the holy thursday tradition. quick wikipedia research wasn't very enlightening -- visiting seven churches on holy thursday probably originated in Rome where people visited the seven pilgrim churches as penance. ta-dah.


in my history, visiting seven churches involved driving around in a bad neighborhood, in the cold, saying quick prayers, maybe lighting a candle, my mom talking about how much the old neighborhood has changed.

it's mom's tradition, afterall. she grew up in a Polish, Catholic neighborhood in Buffalo. the East side of Buffalo still has many beautiful Roman Catholic churches. the dark interiors are all gorgeous stained glass, incense emanates from dark woodwork, their grandeur evokes hushed voices and awe.

by the time my mom was an adult, many of the churches she'd visited as a child were closed. all of them now resided in what had become one of Buffalo's unsafest neighborhoods.


for me, the tradition of seven churches was a 'like' kind of thing. it depended on the year and my level of teen angst. a few years i thought of skipping right 'til the last minute. overall, the best part was that seven churches always ended at some diner or foodstop.

as an adult, moved away, my connection to any holiday has grown very faint. not being religious, with not much family around, most religious holidays now make me think of work. do i get the day off? will we be busy or slow?

sad and true.


but seven churches has stayed with me. last year i didn't plan very well. a friend and i rode our bikes around Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. even though we road past at least seven churches only one was open. we'd started too late. this year, we started plenty early.

the tradition is still weird to do without my parents. both years i brought a good Catholic with me. still i feel like an interloper just walking into any church, but sitting down for thirty seconds and praying? i kept expecting the pews to shock me. not to mention, do i close my eyes, fold my hands?

though i missed my mom, it's fun to bring an old tradition to a new city.

last night i went to seven places i normally walk past. most were beautiful, some were a little crowded, other's nearly empty, a couple were doing mass about the foot washing (something i'd never seen nor heard about in Buffalo), a few were doing services in Spanish. there was a statute of a saint with a flame shooting out his head. i lit a candle to Guadalupe and asked while we were in St. Francis which saint that was getting all the attention -- St. Francisco, my friend said. oh right, duh.  plush seats, hard benches, stadium style theatres.

six (way back there, almost forgot to take a picture)
 it was awesome.

there's something to be said for creating your own traditions as an adult. it makes you contemplate your past -- all of it -- from childhood to a few minutes ago. you feel unbelievably older and simultaneously young and naive. you begin to appreciate and realize how traditions are built -- slowly, with good intentions. and it makes you realize how the best part of family traditions is really the family.

all in all? seven churches year number 2? pretty incredible. my favorite part wasn't even that the night ended with massive amounts of chinese food.

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