Faith, family, food …

Today (Dec. 19th) is the feast day of St. Nicholas (Sveti Nikola) according to the old church calendar and it’s my family’s Slava — patron saint’s day. 

Saint Nicholas represents many things to many cultures.

Before Coca-Cola manufactured and distributed the modern representation of jolly old “Saint Claus” with the red suit and beard, Saint Nicholas was revered as the patron of many, including sailors, merchants and children.

He was known in his lifetime for secret giving, which might be where we got the modern connotation.

In my parents’ culture Slava represents the day my Balkan ancestors were baptized into the Orthodox Christian faith centuries ago. It’s a sacred day, up there with Christmas itself and Easter.

And it’s a good thing I already ran today (8.5 miles) and a 10K race yesterday (in 50:05 — woo-hoo!) because a true feast we will have.

My mother makes a traditional round, cake-like bread for the occasion, which is blessed with wine (representing the body and blood of Christ) by our parish priest.

My mother roasts red peppers from scratch, marinated in olive oil and garlic, and cooks garlic shrimp and pasta, and Eastern European delicacies.

All day long we will welcome family and friends to join us in enjoying our feast.

Before my father passed away more than 10 years ago we celebrated Slava at my parents’ home in Indiana and my mother also made vegetarian sarma (stuffed cabbage leaves).

Now we do it as my sister’s house. It has a slightly different feel and menu but it’s still a wonderful day.

And when I was a child all my relatives lived nearby. Now we are spread out across the country.

That’s what makes this Slava special this year.

My mother’s sister, my aunt Danica, for whom I was named, drove from Arkansas with her youngest granddaughter to be here today. So did my cousin and her family from Phoenix.

As our family has “Americanized” over time it’s a rare treat to have so many of us together again.

I plan to savor my things today. Among them: having all of us here to celebrate; the blessings of family and friends, near and far, in the last year; my health and my family’s well-being; running a solid race yesterday; and the ability to run at all.

None of these things should be taken for granted.

And of course, I’m grateful for my mom’s great cooking. Yum!

Whether or not you celebrate a patron saint as we do, I hope your days ahead are filled with blessings, too .

Sretna Slava!!


Aging is inevitable, but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes, and let’s go!

Mileage today: 8.5: Denver to Boston miles logged: 964.2; Miles left to go: 805.8.