Even though Christmas is over, we can still talk about fruit cake, right? That’s because genuine fruit cake, the kind created and enjoyed by subjects of Her Majesty the Queen, is made to last. If it’s real it only improves as the winter carries on through January, into February, and beyond. Real fruit cake is often just called “cake”. To many in the world, cake, by definition, includes dried fruit. For instance, if you go to the grocery store in southern Africa for “cake mix”, you might well come home with a bag of nothing more or less than “mixed fruit”. Period. This bag of dried fruit bits (not glazed or candied) became one item I regularly kept in the pantry. I couldn’t bake without it and sorely miss it here in the U.S.
Back in my “home” country, I long for “real cake”. I resolved to make one this year. I wanted to eat, and offer to anyone with a similar palate (which means I’m eating most of it myself), British fruit cake. So of course I went online and found “Christmas Cake”. Ah! The real deal! With my list of ingredients, I headed to the store, determined to practice self control and avoid “creative” substitutions. Alas, though I searched various places, I couldn’t find currants that cost less than their weight in gold. (Where, oh where, is my “cake mix”?) Hence, my first substitution: more raisins, sultanas and diced apricots, plus a load of dried, cherry flavored cranberries instead. (I know my English friends are going “blaahhh” about now.) I baked it in a tube pan instead of the normal round pan indicated. Then came the long process new to me – feeding it weekly with sherry. I baked it in early November, too late for the requisite three months feeding. Two months would have to do.
A section of the recipe was all about the “covering” applied at the end of the three month feeding period, before cutting into it. Marzipan. Royal icing. Another costly and laborious addition. And too sweet. Nope, not doing it. This is where I draw the line. How many substitutions or changes have I now made to the recipe? Will it still be Christmas Cake?
It isn’t as it should be, exactly. Yet I’m not disappointed. It’s quite tasty after all. It’s a little celebration each time I indulge in a slice. It was pure joy to gift a hunk of it to friends who also appreciate “real cake”.
That fruit cake is the story of my own celebrations, and the circumstances I’m in when the calendar tells me a Special Day approaches. I want it to be perfect. Can you relate to this? The day should include the right ingredients of venue, menu, activity and, most of all, people. There should be facial expressions and words spoken that settle well in our heart. Most of all, the aftertaste, when it’s all over, should be satisfying in every way.
Yet we find that nothing is just as it should be. The Special Day would have been perfect except for the weather; except for the one who didn’t come; except for my lack of resources to do it up right … And then there is our own sin that fidgets in everything we do. Our lust to be loved, honored or treated in a particular way will cast a long shadow over any day, and particularly those Special Days. Our brokenness, the brokenness of others, is a thorn in every relationship. The let-down, the disappointment at the end isn’t worth the effort. Our lives, our attitudes, our relationships aren’t in the right place to celebrate. So do we just skip out? Let me suggest a lesson from king Josiah found in II Chronicles 35, in the Bible. Like my fruitcake, God’s chosen nation of Israel lacked the ingredients necessary to identify them as worshipers of the One True God. His people were a mess, inside and out. Even so, they were to prepare for and engage in a historic celebration. I hope you’re curious enough to check it out.
I’ve written enough, and you’ve been patient enough to read this far. I’ll test your attention no further – but, a sequel is coming! There is a lot more goodness to lick off this spoon!