December 30, 2012

The Importance of Holding Traditions

My first holiday season without my family has concluded here in Brazil.  After spending the holidays in the Northern Hemisphere for my last 25 years, I can only say the Brazilian way of celebrating seems a little lack-luster.  Sure, there is a novelty to being able to go to the beach and get a suntan on the same day that my family is wearing scarves and mittens, drinking hot cocoa to keep warm.  But to me a cold Christmas is part of the magic.  All those traditions that we keep and continue to pass down to our future generations, the cold night walks, the cookies, the hot chocolate. 

Without traditions, the holidays, to me, aren’t really holidays at all.    

Our make-shift table
I spent Thanksgiving in our own apartment in Campinas.  It is not a holiday here of course, so Fernando had to work.  I went ahead with making a mini-feast for just us and a friend.  I made a stuffed chicken instead of turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, and devilled eggs; all of my favorites from our usual feast.  For dessert I made a flan, because it was just easier and I knew if I had a pie sitting around in my house, we would probably eat a few pieces and the rest would go to waste.  Since we don’t have a table and chairs yet, I ended up building a make-shift table out of empty kegs, unhung shelves, and a table cloth with a cooler, a file box and our coffee table as chairs.  Though my Thanksgiving was still lacking family, pie, and board games, the fact that I still fulfilled some of my traditions left me with a sense of (comedic) pride.  I was sure to get pictures of our college frat-boy furnishings and the beautiful meal that made it look like a home anyways.  It will be a story I can tell to my children when they are poor and whining and it will probably go into the books as one of the most memorable Thanksgivings of my life.  Because the truth is, when tradition is involved, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to conjure up an image.  
Looks much better with a feast on it!
Christmas for me is not the day of Christmas and receiving presents, nor is it just a holy celebration of Jesus’ birth.  It is a season that we fill with traditions for the entire month of December, a holiday that brings us closer to the ones we love and to the memories that we have of Christmases past.  We listen to Christmas music on the radio, we watch Christmas movies on T.V., we hang up our lights, decorate our houses, fight over the Christmas tree, eat an advent chocolate every day, drink eggnog, hang our stockings by the chimney with care…  It is impossible not to know that it is Christmas time in the U.S.  Whether you like it or not, you WILL hear bells ringing, see decorations everywhere, fight over a parking spot at Target, and have to avoid the mall like the plague.  
My homemade advent calendar
This year in Brazil, Christmas lights didn’t happen, nor a Christmas tree, there is no eggnog, hot chocolate seems a little crazy in 90 degree weather, and we don’t have a chimney.  We planned to spend Christmas with Fernando’s parents, so I didn’t worry about it too much.  I listened to my Christmas music, watched my Christmas movies and made a cheesy little advent calendar of things for Fernando and I to do as a couple every day.  I crocheted snowflakes and made Christmas trees out of paper.  But Christmas in Brazil wasn’t advertised as readily as it is in the U.S., I didn’t see garland and Christmas lights everywhere, I didn’t hear Christmas songs in every store, I didn’t hear salvation army bell ringers.  I guess these things are a result of the extreme consumerism that is Christmas in America, but I missed it.  I missed it a lot.  And I missed my family.   

My mom's giant Christmas tree
When I arrived in Itapema after a 10 hour bus ride, I thought, okay now we can really get into the Christmas spirit.  My mother-in-law had a tiny little tree, Christmas lights, and a wreath.  It wasn’t the giant Christmas tree that is always in my mom’s house with so many lights and ornaments on it that you can hardly tell it’s green.  That giant Christmas tree, I’ve come to realize, is the most memorable thing about Christmas with my family.  Going to the lot to find the perfect tree, decorating it as a family, Heather patiently fixing the burnt out lights, inevitably fighting over which ornaments are OUR ornaments to hang, and who has to hang all the ornaments in the kid box, and finally, hanging the name balls that Nonny made for all of us.  That Christmas tree is so ingrained in our memory that my siblings and I can play “I see something on the Christmas tree” together from 6 different locations around the world.  On Christmas Eve, we went to mass.  There were no candles (my favorite part) and we sang “O, Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bells” with adapted religious lyrics to accordion.  We had rice and stuffed turkey breast for dinner.  I planned to bring one of our family traditions to Brazil.  I was going to make my mom’s cinnamon rolls that we have had every Christmas morning for my entire life…  I killed the yeast.  Fernando and his parents didn’t understand why I was so upset about the yeast, but it wasn’t really the yeast, it was the entire thing.  A year without Christmas, a year without my family, and a year without traditions.  How can I explain to them the magic that is Christmas at home? 
Christmas dinner and our little Christmas tree
I finally made the cinnamon rolls this morning…  They turned out well.  Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.  There is an almost constant hiss and bang of deafening fireworks that make it sound like I am living in a war zone.  People are taking their towels and coolers to the beach to get a tan for the New Year. 
Next year, all I want for Christmas is a plane ticket home...      


  1. I love you, sister! The thing I'm learning is that even though I'm a mere 30 min drive from home, our traditions are changing too - Not so drastically as yours, I'll admit. Each new year brings a new twist to what tradition means. Here's to you paving the way for new Brazilian-American holiday traditions!

  2. We missed you too sister! Like Shanny said, as we're all celebrating in our new homes with little families of our own, traditions are changing too. But, it is still sometimes hard. I miss snuggling with all you guys on the couch and playing "I see something on the Christmas tree" while sipping eggnog. I even miss the annual argument over whether I have watched "A Christmas Story" too many times. Soon enough, you and Fernando will have traditions and your Christmases will feel more like "home."


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