Have you ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Remember the scene where the family roasts a full-size lamb in their front yard? My family actually did that each Easter…only in the backyard.
My family did lots of things differently when it came to holidays. We opened most of our gifts on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. Our weddings involved heaps of broken plates on the dancefloor. We celebrated namedays as well as birthdays. I could go on…
Sometimes, the differences in my family’s traditions made me self-conscious or even jealous of my American friends. But I also understood that those peculiarities were what bound us together—the certainty that each holiday we’d be doing our own special thing.
Source: The Feast
Now, as an adult, I find myself in a position I’d never really imagined growing up: having to raise my own children without my family and their traditions surrounding us. With my parents, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all still concentrated in Massachusetts, I’m the only one to have left the state.
It’s tough to know your family’s traditions go on each holiday with or without you, but more critically, it means that I am responsible for making traditions for my own kids. Without family around to help give substance and meaning to the holidays, there’s extra pressure on mom and dad to fill the gap.
I feel this no more strongly than at Easter, a holiday that Greeks often celebrate on a different Sunday than their American counterparts. Each year, I have two choices: take the easy road and stop worrying about passing along unique traditions or…bring the girls to church, sing the ancient Greek songs, make the red eggs, and roast the leg of lamb.
It’s me. It’s all me. If I don’t show them how we celebrate, they’ll never know. There’s no extended family here to do that job for me, or even with me. It’s pressure I know a lot of my friends far from family feel, especially since it turns out that creating memorable traditions is a lot of work!
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On Thanksgiving Day, I cooked a turkey dinner at the same time as my mother, two thousand miles away. I missed sitting down at my parents’ table. I missed the comfort of knowing football would be blaring in the background. I missed the special Thanksgiving dinnerware my mother pulls out just for that holiday. I missed seeing the men drowsy on the couch after dinner while the ladies gather around the table to drink coffee and eat pastries.
But, there’s also something powerful in the fact that I’m able to cook my own turkey dinner. And I only know how because I haven’t had a seat at my family’s table on Thanksgiving for many years. I’ve had to learn to make my own traditions, some familiar and some new.
I just hope someday my kids will look back at their own childhood with fond memories of our holiday traditions—big, fat, and Greek, or not.
How does your family balance old traditions with new this time of year? Does extended family play a large part?