Friday, December 4, 2009

Blog Carnival 12.04.09 - December Traditions

Growing up, December was always my favorite month of the year - after all, what American childhood would be complete without Christmas? It wasn't until I went off to college that I was exposed to some of the many other religious and non-religious traditions celebrated in December. I barely knew what Hanukkah was. When did Kwanzaa start happening? When did Solstice stop being a astronomical phrase on a calendar and started being celebrated by neo-Pagans? I'm still not sure what Eid is. Then there's the fact that Christmas itself isn't celebrated around the world in the same way. With so many different traditions out there, I didn't think I could find anything interesting to say about my own. Until I thought a little harder.

Currently, my family is defined by 3 separate groups - my Mother's family, my Father's family, and my Husband's family - who all celebrate Christmas a little differently. All three celebrate a Christian Christmas, with a lot of things in common: on Christmas Eve, believers go to church, then come home to open a single present each right before going to bed; in the morning, the kids wake up at an ungodly hour to demand presents be opened, there isn't much in the way of breakfast because everyone's eating candy from their stockings, and no one gets out of their PJs until after the last present has been opened. Only later in the day do traditions start to diverge.

My Mother's family has always centered around Christmas dinner with my grandparents, their kids, and my cousins. My grandparents were the glue that kept us all together. But for some reason we always had Christmas dinner at my Aunt Mamie's house. And every year, Christmas is exactly like Thanksgiving: my mother makes an enormous 25 pound turkey with stuffing, my grandmother makes the pies. There are candied yams, mashed potatoes with gravy, and Grandma's famous Vinegar Green Beans. Sometimes there was a small ham, cookies, deviled eggs, fudge, or even Fruit Cake. Why does everyone hate fruit cake? My mom makes amazing fruit cake! Growing up, there was always a kids' table that we got forced to sit at, where we watched our parents laugh and talk and have so much fun while completely ignoring us no matter how much we whined or fought for attention. After dinner there was football on TV, my mom and her sisters yakking, and us kids begging to go home to play with our toys. The families usually start heading home around 5pm, where everyone settles in to digest dinner, play with toys, enjoy the quiet after the morning's storm of energy, and maybe sneak a late-night slice of pumpkin pie. There is always only one meal for us that day, but we end up eating enough calories to last us a week!

My husband's family is quite the same, except usually his Mom makes some cinnamon rolls. The only tradition about dinner is that it's served early in the afternoon, and it's a little fancy. I thought it was heresy when I discovered they didn't have turkey for Christmas dinner! There are no homemade pies or fruit cake, no items made from handed-down recipes at all. And there's no kids' table! I guess that's to be expected, since there are no grandparents, no aunts or uncles, and no cousins in attendance - I suspect there might be some extra traditions in the celebrations of Eric's parent's hometown, but I have no idea what they might be. After dinner, some football, lots of fiddling with toys, my niece yaks on the phone and texts, and eventually we all settle down later that evening for card games and a round of Trivial Pursuit.

Then there is my father's family: kids up too early in the morning, present opening as soon as the parents come out of their room, no real breakfast to speak of. Football on TV, kids running around squealing while their toys make a cacophany of their own, parents trying to pick up the disaster that has been made of the living room. And then, there's dinner...

Every December the family rents a hall behind our neighborhood's tiny Catholic church. The Christmas Party Dinner is usually held the weekend before Christmas, or Christmas Eve. Most of the small community shows up, either because they're family or tied to our family somehow. There's usually a small, sparsely decorated Christmas tree in a corner, and someone dresses up like Santa to hand out treats to the kids. An ensemble of musicians gathers on the tiny stage to play music that adds some white noise to cover the shouts of the kids running around - the hall has amazing echoes! Always the same benches are laid out, the same butcher paper on the tables, the same special rectangular paper plates with a enough little compartments to have a sample of everything, the same food every year, laid out in the same place as last.

This is Hawaii - there is no turkey. No mashed potatoes, green beans, or pumpkin pie. There is the Kahlua Pig that my uncles put in the ground at around 5am that morning. Lomi lomi salmon, Lau Lau, something called chicken long rice that is actually some sort of noodle concoction, sashimi, sticky rice, roasted bananas and yams, haupia. And, of course, poi. My plate is always the same: mound of Kahlua pig, slightly smaller mound of white rice, square of haupia, bit of lau lau, and maybe a yam to see if someone put sugar on it this year (they never do). Scarf down the food, glaring if anyone sitting next to you gets their poi close enough to smell. Eat as fast as you can, throw out your plate, and run out into the night to play with your cousins. Running in bare feet on the cool grass, hiding in the shadows and hedges of the church, laying down spent to stare at the stars. Hear the slack key from the hall, where the men's voices become louder as they consume more alcohol. Become quickly bored, but then protest loudly when your parents want to go home. The day was so full, you are exhausted and drop into bed when you get home. You didn't even get a free moment to miss the turkey.