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The Power in Creating New Traditions

Published:
December 22, 2023
November 20, 2023
Find out how new family traditions can bring your loved ones closer together and facilitate meaningful memories.|Find out how new family traditions can bring your loved ones closer together and facilitate meaningful memories.

Is it sweetened condensed milk? Evaporated milk? I stare blankly at my pantry. You’d think that I would remember from year to year how to make pumpkin pie.

Eventually, a round-up of Pinterest recipes settles the issue and I proceed to nestle a can of pumpkin amid the sweaters and fuzzy socks already tucked into my suitcase.

My husband calls down from the top of the suitcase. “Have you seen my blue jumper?” I swear that although he has spent as much of his adult life in the U.S. as in his native U.K., he begins his reversion to British English weeks prior to our flight leaving.

“I still think it’s weird that you spend Thanksgiving in a country that doesn’t celebrate it,” my best friend remarked during a recent FaceTime. She makes a valid point. But like most holiday traditions, once we got married, my husband and I had to figure out what worked best for us.

Through the Office for Family Life & Spirituality at our parish, we offer monthly Pre-Cana retreats for couples preparing to receive the Sacrament of Marriage. The topic of how to spend the holidays comes up surprisingly often during these conversations. Holidays can easily become a gauge for how a couple navigates the push-and-pull of combining two separate family cultures. 

My husband was raised and confirmed Catholic while attending many years of Catholic school. When my husband was in college, my future father-in-law went through a conversion process that directed him towards more of an evangelical Christian faith. The family started attending the new church and my husband joined them to preserve the family peace. Years later when we first met, my husband identified himself as a Christian but wasn’t attending any church with regularity. I had yet to probe too deeply into this conversation and had accepted it at face value. One Sunday morning early in our relationship, he asked what I was doing with my day.

“Probably cleaning my apartment for the next couple of hours, and then I plan to go to Mass this evening.”

“Can I come to Mass with you?” 

I hesitated in my response. At this point in our relationship, I didn’t understand his deep Catholic ties. I didn’t want him to feel that he had to go to church to somehow impress me. Fortunately, I acquiesced.

As soon as Mass began, he began mumbling the familiar responses and making the appropriate gestures. By the time he stood up to receive Eucharist, I knew we had to deep dive into this conversation. As we were leaving Mass, I asked him for the full story.

By the time we married in a Catholic liturgy two years later, my husband had embraced the Catholic faith again. I also believe that this transition would not have happened so easily and organically if there hadn’t always been a thread tying him to the faith of his childhood. On a more objective level, I can also see why my in-laws were suspicious of my influence.

Christmas increasingly became a source of tension. My in-laws had decided that the holiday was not “biblical” enough for them. What began as limiting decorations descended into not celebrating the holiday altogether. Although we appreciate their skepticism towards the commercialization of Christmas, we were obviously going to celebrate the birth of Christ. I also worried that the tension surrounding Christmas would become even more strained when we had children of our own. 

By the time our first son was born, we had discovered a “holiday work-around.” We would spend Thanksgivings in the UK and would spend Christmases at home or with my family. My mother-in-law had decided that she liked the American Thanksgiving tradition after they celebrated with us here one year. From her perspective, the theme of giving gratitude to God around a table filled with food and family seems universal. There is also a financial benefit to us as it is more cost-effective to travel overseas in November than around Christmas time.

Magical is the word I would use to describe our first year taking our son to celebrate Thanksgiving in England. Twinkling Christmas lights elevated the London skyline as we first left Heathrow in an iconic black cab. The shortened, cold nights lent themselves to cider and good conversation around the fireplace. Yet, it was the cozy memories of my in-laws snuggling our toddler around the kitchen table that most remain with me.

We delighted in reimagining the Thanksgiving meal with slightly different ingredients that year. Cornish game hens instead of turkey — check! I discovered the absence of evaporated milk in U.K. grocery stores. In my fervor to find a working substitute, I neglected to add the eggs. The pie ended up being more akin to a soupy pumpkin custard. Initially, everyone was quietly polite but ultimately the tears were streaming down our cheeks.

Holidays are often so hard because they can highlight divisions within families. There is power in innovation. There is power in creating new traditions.

Thanksgiving has brought me a new appreciation of this side of our family. In sharing what we are respectively grateful for every year — faith, family, health, etc. — we can celebrate our sense of shared values. We can enjoy each other’s company without any added controversy. We can simply relish spending quality time together.

As for this year’s pumpkin pie, I’ll be sure to add the eggs.

Creators:
Janelle Peregoy
Published:
December 22, 2023
November 20, 2023
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