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A Tradition

Posted on: Wednesday

 We didn't have a Christmas tree this year. We didn't do the whole Christmas morning present extravaganza. We didn't light a shamash for the Channukiah. We didn't even hang the stockings. No, this year, our holidays were, in a word, mellow. Gaby and I come from very different backgrounds and different religious upbringings, each with their own traditions. We consider ourselves a very spiritual family, although we no longer practice any specific faith. We want Biet to know the deep joy of the holiday season, to understand her rich and diverse heritage, and to experience all of the warmth and magic of this time of year. So we sat down with each other for a long discussion, and decided that from now on, when the holidays rolled around, our little family would focus on two things: the act of giving, and tradition.

The only dilemma is that, for a multitude of reasons, many of our family traditions have become faded and lost over time.  We don't have any old family recipes to bake, songs to sing, places to go, or people to see. We could have gone the traditional route, like we had enjoyed in past years - tree, lights, hot chocolate, shopping, mountains of gifts, Santa, cookies, stockings, candy canes, and eggnog - but, for some reason, now with Biet, that just didn't feel personal enough.  What we make of our holidays will become Biet's memories, her childhood, and her traditions. So we decided not to let mass media, or pop culture, or holiday sales determine that part of her history. We decided to choose each tradition carefully, and with purpose. And we started with one: volunteering.

After our lazy Sunday Christmas morning, we all dressed up, grabbed the giant plate of cookies I had baked the night before, and hopped on the train to midtown to meet an extraordinary group of people. These people also forgoed the tree and the stockings and the gifts, though not by choice. They each awoke on Christmas morning and made their way to the second story of a little building on 46th street to enjoy good company and a holiday meal; because they had no feast at home in the oven, and no family there to share it with.  Gaby mingled and greeted everyone, holding his daughter, in her Sunday best, proudly (oh my did she bring a smile to everyone's face!), while I did dishes in the kitchen and helped prepare the food. A single tree stood in the center of the room, twinkling with white lights, and surrounded with donated gifts. We stayed as long as baby girl could manage before her nap, gave what we could, and made a few friends in the process.  This was the first time I had volunteered, and it was a blast. It was such a meaningful way to spend Christmas day, and reminded us of what the holidays are truly about: coming together, community, and giving.  I feel that this brand new tradition is a priceless gift to Biet.

After saying our goodbyes, we strolled around midtown, took in the sights (its funny but when you live in New York City, you sometimes forget to enjoy all of the majestic attractions the city has to offer), and stopped by the iconic Rockafeller Center tree. We snapped a few pictures so that Biet will see that her very first Christmas tree was the best and biggest in the world! Then it was back home to put a roast in the oven and cherish and be grateful for all that we have.  I feel very proud of our first family Christmas. I know that each year forward there will be more and more bells and whistles {advent calendars! gingerbread houses! Channukah celebrations! tamales (an almost-forgotten tradition of my late grandmother - more on that next year)! home-made gifts and ornaments!}, and I look forward to experiencing them as Biet grows. But this year, it was simple and quiet and magical.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this post. Bringing a deeper sense of meaning to the holiday is what we'd like to focus on next year and your story is super inspiring for that.

    Rich and I also come from different backgrounds (He was raised a reformed Jew, and I was raised a Christian, but neither of us are religious anymore) and usually choose to travel around the holidays. This year, having just moved, my not having any vacation time left at work this year, and both feeling overworked and exhausted, we decided to also have a very mellow holiday season. It was great! We spent time enjoying our little family and our friends. We did have a menorah that Rich would light every night, but decided against a tree or gifts this year. Both of us want to create a holiday tradition for Cedar that fundamentally involves appreciating the past year and enjoying family and friends. Next year we may have a tree and we may give small heart-felt gifts, but we both don't want the holiday to ever be about receiving gifts. Whatever we decide to do, I look forward to creating these new traditions with our little boy.

    Happy New Year!

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