Holiday Traditions Bring Their Mixed Blessings to the Table
It’s a crazy mixed-up world, or so it seems in this year just drawing to a close. Earthquakes, hurricanes, wars, record heat waves, you name it, this year has witnessed it. And at the same time, contradicting the craziness and woven through it, are the on-going miracles of life. Against all odds, the sun comes up, babies are born, we breathe in and out. Each day brings new opportunities for redemption, for forgiveness, just as it offers the possibility of mistakes, hurtful words, errors of omission.
Families so often mirror the confusing contradictions in life. The people we love the most are the ones with the power to drive us crazy. We’re polite and helpful to strangers but so often squash the confidence of those in our care. Some days it seems easier to love the friends who make up our “chosen” families than our given ones.
The Holidays can seem the same — we anticipate them all year, and then they’re on us in a heap, a jumble of errands and food, relatives, presents, pressure; joyful reunions and old resentments all tangled like tinsel. And in our multicultural society, there is often the added pressure of juggling very different traditions. The juxtaposition of Hanukkah and Christmas on the calendar echo their “kissing cousins” position in my family history.
My mother’s family tree contained farmers and merchants, staunch Baptists and Methodists, growing deep roots through several generations raised on Texan ranches and dusty small towns. My father’s family were immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, Russian Jews, a long line of tailors, merchants and scholars. These two unlikely branches came together when my parents met at university and braved a “mixed marriage” that five decades ago must have raised more eyebrows than it would now.
We were raised with the food and guilt of both religions, but not really the religious training of either. Bagels and biscuits, more than baptisms and bar mitzvahs. My parents taught us to be tolerant and open-minded; curious about religions but not in thrall to any one belief system. We got gifts on the eight nights of Hanukkah from my Jewish relatives and Santa left presents under the Christmas tree next to those from my Methodist aunt and uncle.
We argued over who would get to light the ritual candles that celebrated a miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting eight days in a reclaimed temple more than 2000 years ago; we sang and played at gambling with the dreidl, a 4-sided top. We also went caroling and squabbled over who would get to hang the star on the top of the tree. Both holidays were happy times marked by gifts and food.
From this mixed family, I got a sense of being welcome in more than one “camp”. While I didn’t have the grounding of a faithful conviction, I got to explore, to question, and to enjoy different traditions.
I hope that this holiday season finds you gathered safely, co-existing happily and healthily with your neighbours and your loved ones. Enjoy your own traditions but take some time to explore new ones. Enjoy some of the following dishes to create a multi-cultural Holiday meal to share with those around you. And I hope that as you cook and eat that you will remember that Life, as well as food, is a blessing, one that we ought to give thanks for daily, not just on Holidays.