You may remember that when Helen began the Hidden Treasure forum over at 4Real, she used the calendar to find "Our Lady of Altagracia" as its patroness. (The forum was scheduled to debut on her Feast, January 21st.) I had never heard of this title for Our Lady, but when Helen told me she was the patroness of the Dominican Republic, I quipped, "Well, I guess we know what country you will be adopting your next baby from." We both laughed, and, knowing the Blessed Mother, Helen agreed that this was quite likely.
Three months later, Helen found out Our Lady had a different grace in store: She was expecting a baby due on January 21st.
[Yes, I know you know that story! But it is such a good one--how can I not repeat it?]
Here is a Tea in Honor of Our Lady of Altagracia, served in thanksgiving for Helen's baby and to Our Lady for making this title so well known to all of us.
In planning the Tea, I consulted the Novena Prayer translated for us by Helen. If you have a moment, please refer back to it to understand the references below. It might make sense to read the prayer with the children, pointing out the symbolism of the items on the table.
Our Mother's Hands
The Love of our Hearts
Three Graces Tea Menu:
Love of Purity
A Sweet for Our Lady of Altagracia
1. Our Mother's Hands
At the outset of the tea: Create delicate paper hands to represent the loving hands of Our Lady. Help the children to draw or write their blessings on each hand, remembering to thank her for "the innumerable favors we have received from [he]r hands." Take a moment to remind the children of the image of the Miraculous Medal also showing the graces shining from the hands of our heavenly Mother.
2. The Love of our Hearts
Pass out paper hearts, allowing the children to decorate them lavishly (after all, Valentine's Day is coming up, making this the perfect decoration for the season), writing or drawing their special offerings to Our Lady. This could be a love letter to her from each one of us, including a word from the adults. We remember to offer her "all the love in our hearts."
Three Graces Tea Menu:
The Novena specifies the three graces we request from Our Lady, and the menu offerings of the tea reflect them in a simple way. [This is not fancy, but it is do-able!]
3. Love of Purity.
We serve something white representing purity to accompany the vegetables in the next menu offering. There are many recipes for dip that is white, and ranch dressing might work as well as anything.
In asking for the grace of purity, we remember the perfect purity of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
4. Home Blessings.
We remember the humble home in Nazareth, asking for a shower of grace upon our homes through holy marriages. Our Lady of Altagracia is the patroness of the Dominican Republic, so we remember "Home Blessings" with produce that grows in this, her chosen homeland: snap peas or pea pods. [Here is a picture of pea pods to give you an idea of the type to buy.]
When you break open the side of the pod, the peas inside look like a family in their house. If the children have never heard the expression, "like peas in a pod," this would be a good time to mention it.
5. Maternal Arms
We ask the grace of flying to Heaven with the help of Our Lady's maternal arms. Small twisted pretzels would be the simplest possible addition to the table, and would go well with the dip. The original German pretzels were meant to represent arms crossed in prayer, but I think they would make a wonderful maternal embrace for these purposes. [I am hoping to keep this as simple and inexpensive as possible. As you can see, the first three offerings are not sweet or extensive. They are meant as a small snack, leaving everyone ready for a rich dessert!]
It is no coincidence, by the way, that the Novena to Our Lady of Altagracia takes place only a few weeks after the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3). May we never cease to praise His holy name, engraving it on our hearts forever. [Please refer to the Novena prayer to see the connection.]
6. A Sweet for Our Lady of Altagracia:
The chief exports of the Dominican Republic are coffee, sugar and bananas. A delicious dessert honoring Our Lady of Altagracia could be made by spooning carmelized bananas over coffee ice cream.
To carmelize the bananas, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice the bananas in half and sprinkle with butter and brown sugar. Bake about 7 minutes or so. [You might be able to do this over the stove as well. I'd need to experiment!] If this is too difficult, use plain ripe bananas over coffee ice cream--or even vanilla ice cream with bananas and a drizzle of coffee syrup.
Sometimes improvising is key, particularly this time of year! I do not know about you, my friends, but we still need to get our Christmas decorations put away, so "less is more" at the moment!
Altagracia Tea, Shopping List
White dressing (ranch or homemade)
Snap peas or pea pods
Small twisted pretzels
Coffee Ice Cream