None of the unconventional traditions made in my family were intentional. In fact, unconventional describes the dynamic within my family of four and my granny, aunties, uncles, and cousins pretty accurately. We never sit down at a grand dining room table for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we rarely dress up for holidays, there are no annual photos, and we don't take any trips together. We rarely even have cookouts!
I used to be bummed by this dynamic. Most of my friends come from big families with diehard traditions and blatant acts of "happy family" togetherness. But, over the years, I've realized that my small family congregates for our very own set of nontraditional traditions — like my mom and I going to the same cafe every time I came home from college or everyone watching the Lakers on Christmas day — but these four, though sometimes accidental, are the ones I treasure the most.
The Thanksgiving Grace
My parents, my uncles, and my aunties all grew up going to church, but for some reason, none of the children, including my brother and I, ever attended. Regardless, before Thanksgiving dinner, cooked by my mom, we say grace. We all gather in a circle and hold hands, then my dad asks who wants to start the prayer, even though we all know he wants to, and then he starts. Grace usually begins with a strong focus, being thankful for the health of the family and for the food, but quickly it trails off into a joint activity. My granny likes to say something, followed by my uncle cracking a joke, then all of us trying to get ourselves back into a serious mindset, and finally, once our hands are sweaty enough, we get to eat. I have a theory that grace makes the food taste better, so I look forward to it every year.
The Christmas Eve Party
The strongest and most traditional custom in my family is my auntie and uncle's Christmas Eve party. My uncle's side of the family is Jewish and our half of the family is Christian, so when I was little, I would go home with Christmas presents and chocolate gold coins. It wasn't until I was 12 years old and I caught the stomach flu that we realized how important this gathering is for our family. It was the first time we were not attending in 12 years, and we all felt like something was missing. My uncle wasn't making cocktails, the smell of honey baked ham wasn't wafting through the halls, and I didn't spin one dreidel. It's been 10 years, and we haven't missed the party since.
The New Year's Eve Fight
It might sound crazy that I consider this a tradition, but I think it really brings my mom, dad, brother, and me together. For the past two years, my family has gotten into a catastrophic fight on New Year's Eve (probably because by then, we've been around each other for too long). I see it as our annual purge and a way to ring in the new year with everything off our chests. It usually starts with my brother saying something my dad does not agree with, then I can't help but escalate the situation with my opinions, and finally my mom snaps and joins in on the yelling. But the magic of it all is that the next day, we realize it's a new year, we're all still lucky to be alive, and we should cherish one another despite our differences. Maybe the real tradition is the big group hug after the fight.
The MLK Day Lecture
This is an on and off tradition but a tradition it definitely is. Every MLK Day that my family spends together finds us around the dinner table with my dad giving us a history lesson about Martin Luther King Jr. His words, the same year after year, are a fitting tribute to Dr. King. "Do you guys really know about MLK?" he starts, and that's the queue for my brother and I to try to quickly take our plates to the sink, but we never escape. My dad talks about everything we already know about Dr. King for 30 minutes while we pretend to be over it and my mom pretends to pay attention. But when I went to college and missed the lecture for the first time in years, I found myself giving a similar speech to my own friends, missing my dad's words. This is one custom that will most likely be passed down to my own children.
Traditions, intentional or otherwise, are celebrated because they commemorate your bond with the humans you love on Earth. They exist within families, friend groups, and even just by yourself. I see my family's customs as ways to cherish one another and remember the love that exists between us. I can't wait to accidentally make more.
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