I’ve been thinking about traditions lately as Christmas approaches. Although traditions are carried out throughout the year, they seem to be much more prevalent during the holiday season. For me, Christmas was the bringing together of German and Guamanian/American traditions. Every year as a child, we’d open all our gifts on the night of Christmas Eve. Shortly after, my father would read the Christmas story to us. In the kitchen, my siblings and I would help my mom make German cookies, the ones shaped like a crescent and covered in powdered sugar. On Christmas morning, we’d open our stockings and my dad would make us omelets. In the afternoon, we’d go over to my Uncle Bill’s house and meet all our cousins and relatives. By all, I mean at least twenty to thirty of us. My Uncle’s Christmas tree was always much bigger than ours, but it had to be in order to fit all the presents everyone brought for each other. Since my childhood Christmases were in Guam, red rice, BBQ short ribs, chicken kelaguen, pancit, and lumpia were the beginnings of a growing buffet.
But as the years passed, I watched those traditions fade and change. When my mom passed away, we stopped making those German Christmas cookies. When we moved to California, Christmas became much smaller and Guamanian food was no longer a thing. Then when my brother got married and then I got married, our Christmas Eve traditions evolved in order to bring traditions together. I remember crying one Christmas Eve because I felt as though all the traditions that made Christmas special were all disappearing. Yet I couldn’t understand why my family seemed so unfazed by it. But I think the reason lies in what they chose to value. I believe they always chose to value each other and the time spent together, more than making sure we carried out all our traditions.
After realizing this, I am in no way saying traditions shouldn’t matter. In fact, about three years ago, I found a recipe that tasted so similar to my mom’s cookies and now I make them every Christmas. Our Christmas dinners have also slowly begun to incorporate more Guamanian dishes as my siblings, sister-in-law, and I learn to make them. I believe traditions do matter. I think they matter because they tell a story and they become activities that create meaning and a sense of belonging. Traditions help to build community and bring people closer. But just like the seasons, traditions can sometimes change and new traditions can be created. And I’m beginning to accept that this is okay, because traditions should be used to support the closeness of family, but they should never replace the meaning of family.