In just a few short weeks, Canadians will celebrate their first ever annual Mennonite Heritage Week. And I don’t think any of us are ready.
We were all a little stunned and a lot embarrassed earlier this year to see Members of Parliament from across all party lines get up in the House of Commons and sing our praises. It was a rare moment of cross-partisan consensus that just goes to show that unity of purpose is most easily attained when there is general ignorance about the subject at hand. And when the stakes are low.
But whatever political machinations made it happen, we are now stuck with a Mennonite Heritage Week on the second week of September and I say we make the best of it.
This does not mean that any of us get to take the week off work. Though I have heard rumours of Mennonite Churches that don’t encourage a strenuous work ethic, if such congregations exist in Canada, they are few and far between. Some of us individually manage to flaunt that ethic but it isn’t easy. It has taken me years and copious amounts of alcohol to get to my current state of happy sloth and indolence. But my achievement is not the norm and is in no way representative of Mennonite Heritage. And therefore cannot be celebrated as part of Mennonite Heritage Week.
I gotta say that the idea of week-long festivities in our honour is giving a lot of Mennonites the heebie jeebies. Even Mennonite Assemblies don’t last that long. And though it is true that sometimes our worship services feel like they are week-long affairs, in fact they rarely go past the ninety-minute mark. A week’s a long time to focus on Mennonite shit.
And that means a lot of time for people to mess it up. It’s pretty much guaranteed that people will get stuff wrong. I don’t just mean non-Mennonites trying their best (but failing) to celebrate all that is good about Mennonites. I mean us. I mean us talking among ourselves and also I mean the different subsects that pretend to get along about once a year. For a single day. At the relief sale.
And now we have a week.
Not that Mennonites around Canada have responded to the announcement of being given our own week by coming together across cultural and confessional lines for the sake of a big long celebration of Menno-ness. Nope. Canadian Mennonite magazine, in fact, told us to “forget about Mennonite Heritage Week.” (though this is perhaps because the editor was embarrassed to admit that she lacked both roll kuchen skills and a sense of humour).
Well, my advice is different from the Canadian Mennonite’s. I say, don’t forget about it – prepare for it.
And I have pointers.
Sew/assemble your costume
Just as it takes a long time for Mardi Gras participants to design and make their costumes, so it will take some time for Mennonite Heritage Week celebrants.
Not so that they can dress up as a Mennonite. Pretty much our greatest fear for Mennonite Heritage Week is that a bunch of Canadians with no connection to us will start donning bonnets and suspenders in some kind of mistaken tribute to us. Please don’t.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t need a costume.
You will need a costume, of course, for the Martyr’s Mirror re-enactment events. And, as the typical party supply store does not tend to stock sixteenth-century Anabaptist fashions, you better get to work on your costume now.
We’re not gonna make #DirkWillemsCosplay trend on Twitter if we don’t start planning now, people.
Prep for the potlucks
Food is an important part of any Mennonite occasion but that doesn’t mean there will be food trucks around the perimeter of any Mennonite Heritage Week event space.
But what to make? This is bound to be contentious but we have a whole week to cover so Mennonite food need not be summed up in one or two meals. I suggest that at least one of meals you plan come from the More with Less Cookbook – and the preachier recipe the better. Because remember the famous Mennonite motto: Preachiness in all things. It’s part of our heritage.
The rest of the meals can cover the range of food traditions wherever Mennonites live. This means hopping over to the Mennonite World Conference interactive map and doing a bit of research. It also means you’ll be fortunate enough to have a pretty varied diet on Mennonite Heritage Week.
But if you do not accept that food eaten by Mennonites is a mark of a food’s authenticity as Mennonite and want instead food that has contributed to Canadian Mennonite tables for at least a century, you’ll have to pull out a copy of The Mennonite Treasury of recipes and/or Food that Really Schmecks and start practicing. If you’re looking online, just remember: if it doesn’t tell you add “enough” milk or flour or some other ingredient, it isn’t authentic.
Brush up on your Mennonite conversation skills
I’m kinda hoping there will be a Preachiness Contest at my local Mennonite Heritage Week festivities. Not that I think I’ll win. Most of us Mennonites practice that skill regularly so I expect competition to be stiff. As already mentioned, flipping through the More with Less Cookbook and reading the marginalia will help in prepping for preachiness.
Otherwise, it’s all about getting in the Mennonite frame of mind. Try saying to yourself, “The original Anabaptists would never approve of this” whenever you are not being martyred, singing hymns or reading scripture.
You’ll get there in no time.
As there will be plenty of opportunities for Mennonite small talk and/or intense discussions about controversial topics, there’s no time like the present to hone up on your Menno trivia. GAMEO‘s a good place to start for trivia. Sure, there are a lot of pretty dry encyclopedia articles in there about white men and their institutions but every now and then there’s a little nugget of hilarity hiding within a sincere infodump. I’m not linking to any here because that would be cheating. Get out there and start surfing the Mennoweb yourself.
For controversies, you can always peruse the pages of the Canadian Mennonite or, for controversies that extend outside our borders, The Mennonite World Review. Back issues are fine. Our controversies follow their own decades-long news cycle.
Given that the Parliament has declared this week worth celebrating because of our contributions to Canada, it is perhaps incumbent on us to know a little bit about the acts of at least a few Mennonites that had a broader impact outside of our own enclaves. It’d be good to have a list handy of all the things that Mennonites have given to Canada. Right now, the only things I can think of are Polka Dot Door and Sunflower seeds but I’m sure there are more ways Canada’s benefited from us.
Well, not “sure,” really but tentatively confident that, given a few weeks, I can come up with some more.
And if not, well. Polka Dot Door and sunflower seeds are both pretty great and worthy of a Heritage Week.
Yes. Yes, they are.
Learn some Mennonite folk dances
Ha, no. I’m just schputting with you.
The closest we get to dancing is the traditional “doughnut line shuffle” at a Mennonite Relief Sale. It’s a slow dance. But there’s only one Mennonite Relief Sale happening during Mennonite Heritage Week so you’re out of luck if you’re not in Abbotsford.
The Relief Sale closest to me will be the following weekend, on the assumption that none of us will really be ready on time anyway. There are no doughnuts there but the Toronto sale did, for awhile, have the distinction of being the only Mennonite Relief Sale with beer tasting (almost) on site.
But, never mind, you don’t really need to prepare for attending a Relief Sale.
Apart from the sales, Mennonite recreation varies by region and schism so it’s hard to know how you should train. Conservative Mennonites are pretty big on volleyball and Old Order Mennos like their baseball. We never have such games at the Mennonite Relief Sales — the Plain-dressing Mennos would just put the rest of us to shame.
If you’re hanging out with my kind of Mennonites, you might want to practice up your Dutch Blitz, Rook or Crokinole. You should also keep your voice warmed up so you can burst into four-part harmony hymn singing at a moment’s notice.
And it goes without saying that you should stock up your liquor cabinet and peruse my Mennonite cocktail list in preparation of a week full of quirky Anabaptist libations.
You can prepare the peach-maple syrup in advance for this cocktail or just make it on the day. It’s hard to say whether the original Anabaptists would have approved of the cocktail but if you practice enough, I’m sure you can find something to get all preachy about while drinking
1 1/2 Oz bourbon
1 oz peach-maple syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled halfway with ice. Shake thoroughly. Serve in an old fashioned glass with ice and piece slices. And drink while preaching it to all who will listen.
- 1/4 cup peach, peeled and chopped into small pieces
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/8 cup maple syrup
Bring the water, syrup and peach to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. Strain. Eat the peach remains. Reserve the syrup for cocktails.