Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Holiday Traditions

This weekend we took down the dead tree and the decorations from our front porch. We made turkey soup with the frozen carcass leftover from Thanksgiving. We cleaned the house and did laundry - removing the last traces of our winter vacation. The end-of-year holidays are officially over...

Through the years we have slowly accumulated a series of traditions at our house. We celebrate the holidays with feasts for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We light Hanukkah candles (most) nights, we decorate a Christmas tree with a Star of David on top (like them), and we head out of town for a family vacation the last week of the year. Many of these are a blend of practices that Dada and I enjoyed while growing up, while others came about perchance - like shelling half a bushel of oysters as a prelude to our Thanksgiving dinner.

I grew up Jewish, with an emphasis on the -ish. The non-practicing secular kind that recounts the history but shuns the religion. I had great-grandfathers from both sides that broke off with Judaism as a religion but brought up their family respecting and propagating its traditions. We always celebrated the food holidays, and for me being Jewish has always been associated with the flavors and smells from my grandmother's kitchen - dishes that I attempt to recreate at my own home, thus passing on these traditions to the next generation.

Dada is not religious either, his parents having deserted their church-of-choice during the civil rights movement. Throughout his early years they celebrated the Christmas holidays with a family vacation - most likely bare-boat sailing in the Caribbean. Their holiday practices also include a mountain of presents, accumulated throughout the year - as well as anything else that can be wrapped for the occasion. I found this assortment of gifts overwhelming at first - as much as two weeks on a 40-foot boat with my future in-laws. However, now this sea of presents has even engulfed my parents, despite the "small gift for you, big gift to share" philosophy they had while I was growing up.

We have always celebrated Christmas at my house by feasting with relatives and receiving presents at midnight. Santa did not seem to care that we were Jewish. I was in my teens before I realized that there was a religious aspect of the holiday for which we were not accounting, as the word for Christmas in Portuguese - Natal - has no Christ in it. I always assumed my mother preferred her craft projects over an expensive plastic tree - and they were definitely fun to make. I never experienced any sense of guilt for enjoying Christmas, or receiving chocolate eggs from the Easter Bunny for that matter. I never felt constrained over what we could celebrate or what we could not. We enjoyed the holidays with no strings attached, and this is a tradition I want to make sure I pass on to my kids.