Mama to Mama: Holiday Traditions
Feliz Navidad! I have two young boys. Christmas is, understandably, their favorite holiday. (Thanksgiving is mine.) And as we are Hispanic, our family traditions are Spanish in origin.
On the 1st of December, I place the Nativity crèche “stable” out. Every Sunday, we add a few animals, palm trees and angels. On the morning of “Noche Buena”, which is when we actually celebrate our Christmas, (the 24th of December), I place Mary and Joseph, as well as the manger, in the stable. While the children are distracted at the dinner table, I add the baby Jesus. To them, he just “appears”. My eldest is now 7. I’m hoping that I can still David Blaine this trick this year.
Usually, Latins go to “La Misa Del Gallo”, which is midnight Mass. (So called as a Gallo/Rooster is believed to have crowed when Jesus was born. I’ve been around Roosters. The odds are fairly strong that he crowed quite a bit with strangers in his stable. I digress.) This will be the first year that I take my children to this mass, as I think they may be able to stay awake. As I am in Chicago, we are fortunate to be able to go a Misa de Gallo in Spanish. They adore Spanish mass as it involves a wee pounding on the chest, for the Mea Culpas. Traditionally there are three of those. My children, (and rightly so), add a few extra.
Christmas Day is a family day for us. After a large frittata breakfast, without skipping a beat, the boys ask me how many days until the Three Kings are coming for the Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages, which we celebrate on the 6th of January. On that day, the Three Kings bring a few smaller presents. (Still: Presents.) The boys leave out a few apples for the camels, and wine for the Kings. The magical thing is: the wine is never there in the morning. Weird, right? Just as my grandmother did, I use gold wrapping paper for the gifts from the Kings. This year, as I’m a bit off anything “gilded”, I will use silver tissue wrapping.
Another fun Spanish/family tradition, is that at New Years, we eat 12 grapes, for luck. I must confess that I forgot the grapes last year. I shan’t this.
As now second generation Hispanics, it is even more important to be that my sons taste the same flavors of the holidays, that I did, and that they experience the same traditions that I did.
In a world where everything has changed, our traditions may offer us more comfort than we needed before. I think the Three Kings may just get a whole bottle this year. They deserve it.
This time of year it always seems like it takes a little extra effort to get outside with the kids, as the days are getting shorter, darker and colder. To boost everybody’s motivation, I came up with the idea of building a little house in the woods for trolls, gnomes and other imaginary forest critters, all of which are an important part of the folklore of my native Sweden. The troll house functions like an advent calendar during the weeks leading up to Christmas, and every day my girls are anxious to see what the trolls have been up to overnight. Sometimes we put out cookies or food for the trolls, and in return they usually leave a note, a riddle or a small gift. This will be our fourth year building a troll house and tending to it daily has become one of our family’s most cherished holiday traditions.
As I have written about before, my family is an amalgamation of religions and traditions. This is never more clear at the time of the Winter Holidays where our Jewish, Presbyterian, Catholic, Hindu-influenced Guru-following, and Agnostic upbringings come into the more spiritual but less religiously defined context of our current lives. What I always knew was that I wanted to give my children the benefit of traditions. But, as you can see, we have a lot of possible traditions to choose from. At this time of year we loosely celebrate Advent, Hanukah, the 12 days of Christmas, and Solstice. Those are some lucky kids! Somehow, very early on, we were visited by the Gift Witch and she has made the entire integration process much easier. She is a very understanding and accommodating fairy-type being that brings our children gifts for their stockings sometime between the solstice and epiphany. She is very flexible. “She is sort of like Santa Claus, but she comes whether you’ve been naughty or not,” described my eldest daughter. The Gift Witch always brings the loveliest, often handmade (by someone) gifts: just one for each child and very occasionally for a grown-up too. This year we have added to our Christmas traditions by cutting down our own tree. Since we live on an island surrounded by ocean and forest, there were loads of little pine trees just waiting for the chance to be cut down and named “Christmas” and decorated with our motley collection of ornaments. It was pretty amazing to listen to old Christmas records with a fire burning in the fire place and decorating a tree from our own land. I hope it is the beginning of a tradition that we will do for many, many years to come.
Every year on a Sunday in early December my extend family gathers for breakfast at the same pancake spot at 8am. After breakfast we drive around and visit all the graves of our loved ones who passed before us. My aunt makes holiday wreaths from foraged greenery and we drop them off at each grave site or ash scattering locale as my 92 year old grandmother, the matriarch of our family, tells us special memories about each of the departed. Although the act is somber, the day is light hearted, with many of the stories hilarious and sometimes risqué. It also frees everyone up to proceed with things like work christmas parties, and the family commitments of their spouses during the omni-busy end of december holiday rush. It’s over 20 years now of the annual grave visit and its still going strong. The day keeps lengthening as more family members pass on and more graves are visited, and the table keeps growing as more cousins marry and more great-grand children are added.
Laura, Mama of one, with one on the way