Thinking About: Holiday traditions


What are your holiday traditions? Where do they come from?

This was something that came up a lot in conversation when I was doing the interview for the Sunset magazine article. As a young family, we are still getting to pick and choose some elements of our holiday. Which things will we keep from our childhoods? How do they mix? Are there things that our friends are doing that would make sense or be particularly fun for us?

I was recalling that, at Christmas dinner at my Aunt’s and Uncle’s house, my family would hold hands and sing “Silent Night” instead of saying grace. As a very young child, I would try not to giggle. When I was 12, it felt interminable. And as a teenager, I was self-conscious about my voice and about holding hands. But, looking back, it was such a nice tradition. I have nothing but fondness for it now. And I wonder, is this something we should implement?

I was talking to a friend from Mexico about the holidays and she was telling me that, in her town, they only give gifts to the very young children because it’s like bringing presents to baby Jesus. We also talked about posadas, where a pilgrimage is reenacted over over the nine days leading up to Christmas eve mass, with gatherings each night. Part of the ritual is taking swings at a piñata. Traditional Mexican piñatas are designed in the shape of a seven-point star, where the seven points represent the seven deadly sins that need to be destroyed: greed, gluttony, sloth, pride, envy, wrath, and lust. With blind faith, one takes aim in hopes to break each of the points, conquering each sin. Traditionally, she told me, they would put fruit inside the center. And when it would break, it would be symbolic of receiving holy gifts or grace.

We saw lots of these in the markets when we were in Mexico City. And last week, when Aron and I were in the Mission district of San Francisco, and I noticed the piñatas for sale at many of the markets. I love the symbolism of taking a swing at your vices at the end of the year and welcoming the bounty and promise of a new one—especially in the guise of something as festive as a piñata.

So much of the holidays seems to be about finding ways to imbue celebratory gestures and fun pleasures with symbolic significance. It got me thinking about borrowing traditions from other cultures and faiths when coming up with one’s own holiday spirit. Obviously, the posadas are part of a very particular religious tradition. How do you feel about adopting traditions from places other than your own family and ancestral history? What kind of relationship is necessary? Are there any things you do out of admiration for other cultural traditions?

P.S. An advent calendar tradition that we adopted. And some Christmas traditions from around the world.


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