Being a Nondenominational Christian with a family of diverse religious and non-religious beliefs, the holidays are always an interesting time to check our calendars and schedule our family gatherings. I have been blessed to have three Thanksgivings and Christmases every year. My family and I are mindful of the dates we choose to celebrate holidays, but we have managed to appease everyone and continue our family traditions. We keep the kids entertained with a sizeable room filled with loved ones, tons of food, games, and traditional holiday music playing in the background. The holidays have always made me nostalgic, and as I’ve matured, I appreciate my family’s sacrifice and hard work in paving their way towards a better future.
Thanksgiving is my dad’s favorite holiday; my parents and I usually go a week before and visit my dad’s side of the family in San Pedro where Nany (my great-grandmother) makes a delicious family meal. We have a huge turkey with my Nany’s famous meatloaf stuffing, camotes (Mexican candied sweet potatoes), mashed potatoes, frijoles de la olla (beans from the pot), vegetables, salad, California chilis, Pillsbury Dough Boy biscuits, tortillas, tortilla chips, cranberry sauce, homemade guacamole, buñuelos (Mexican fritters), and my Nany’s famously spicy pico de gallo (fresh, uncooked salsa).
We form a circle around the table as my Abuelito (my great-grandfather) would say a prayer in Spanish, thanking God for giving us another year to gather together and listing who and what he was thankful for: familia. Next, we picked up our plates and formed a line as we served ourselves and sat down for the first course. Something I also enjoyed was the list of synonyms we had in Spanish (and Spanglish) for “turkey.” We would all laugh as we retold stories from when my Abuelitos were children as my Abuelita always managed to make us cry tears of laughter. After at least two courses, we were stuffed to the brim. My father, uncle, grandpa, Abuelito, and my great-grandfather take naps or watch football as my Abuelita, Nany, grandmother, aunt, mother, and I picked up. Afterwards we would work on a puzzle and watch a movie. Then it’s time for Marie Calendar’s pumpkin pie! With tons of whipped cream. And with that, we would finish the movie and head home, hoping to avoid the traffic.
Thanksgiving Day is very informal and laid-back. My parents and I have leftovers at home. I prefer to mix the leftovers together as I add curry powder and a little bit of water, popping it into the oven as my mouth watered. I would then heat up a Pillsbury Dough Boy biscuit and thoroughly enjoy my meal. My parents would make leftovers in the form of a sandwich. Later in the evening we sit around the TV and watch a movie. Our three German Shepherds snuggled up on our cowboy throw rug in front of the fireplace.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my mom’s side of the family meets at one of my aunts’ houses where we have a potluck-style dinner. We have a turkey with my grandmother’s special stuffing, a ham, my homemade mashed potatoes, homemade macaroni salad, bolillos (conch-shaped bread rolls), canned corn, homemade sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top, cranberry sauce, and homemade pumpkin pie. Once everyone’s bellies are full (and more well-rounded), we make conversations as we laugh about past memories and tell jokes. I then prepare pieces of folded paper with everyone’s names on them and three things they want for Christmas as I put them into a hat and assign a Secret Santa for everyone.
My absolute favorite holiday is Christmas. I love everything about it; I always feel so nostalgic when I go Christmas shopping, and I especially enjoy visiting old-town areas to see the antique stores decorated with fake snow and miniature Christmas villages. Sometimes my mom and I would walk into stores just to look at their decorations.
My family celebrates our first Christmas with my dad’s side of the family, where we make three different types of tamales: red and green chili, as well as sweet tamales on December 22. We use the extra masa to make homemade champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate) while we wait for the tamales. My Nany checks on the frijoles de la olla and has me taste them. When everything’s finished, we have two to three servings of tamales y frijoles. Later in the evening we open presents and each receive a brown paper bag filled with peanuts, tangerines or oranges, and small candies. This reminds us of my Abuelitos and their parents, who were raised in a small town in Chihuahua, Mexico, and couldn’t afford to buy each other extravagant gifts. I cannot tell you the exact year when we started this tradition, but my family has always kept it sacred as we explain to the younger generations why we do this.
My parents and I celebrate together either on the Eve of Christmas or Christmas Day. We fry our tamales in olive oil and warm up a cup of champurrado as we sit in front of the fireplace and we take turns opening gifts. I also make some homemade chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies. The day is relaxing and calm as we listen to Christmas music and prepare for the next day.
My mom’s side of the family comes down the day after Christmas and we participate in the Secret Santa gift exchange, as well as other fun holiday games in which we fill the room with laughter. My younger cousins and I make a gingerbread house. We have a potluck-style dinner, have coffee or hot cocoa, and I make a special dessert. Either a Bûche de Noël, eggnog cheesecake, pumpkin roll, cookies, or cake. In general, we don’t revolve Christmas around Santa, but we enjoy our traditions, we read the Nativity story, we attend church, we eat (a lot), and we enjoy giving each other gifts.
I believe holidays are based off of an individual’s perspective and personal beliefs. Some of my family members are more conservative in their Christian beliefs, others are more liberal, and some are nonreligious; but at the end of the day, we’re all still family and we know where we stand in our relationship with God and in life. There is no judgment. No enforcing conformity with each other’s beliefs; everyone can decide what they choose to believe for themselves. Thus each year, we honor our family holiday traditions, and on occasion, we add on another tradition and cherish the memories we make.
This year unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, we will not be able to celebrate with family as we did in the past. We will not be putting up tables in the center of our living room to seat everyone together, or hear each other laugh as we tell jokes and reminisce. There will not be a group of family members huddled in the kitchen as they all make recommendations on how much salt to add to the mashed potatoes.
Many of us will not be going from store-to-store trying to find the “perfect” gift for a picky family member, or trying to find the best deals, having to search for a parking space, and getting ready to sit in nearly three-hour traffic to drive to a relative’s home. There will not be big extravagant meals, familiar faces, or laughter filling the room. Instead, this year has been filled with tragedy and ambiguity, but there is a valuable lesson we can all learn: appreciating the memories of holidays past and looking forward to next year.
Next year we will be more grateful, more appreciative, more joyous to see one another, and we will complain less as once again we go through the frustrating routine of buying everyone the “perfect” gift. We will not cringe when we hear Christmas carols playing on the radio a week before Thanksgiving. We will happily clean, cook, and decorate our homes. We will cheerfully give each other gifts and embrace one another. We will be more observant as the children play with their new toys and run around in the backyard. The echoing of laughter and conversations will be worth more than any extravagant gift we could possibly receive or give. We will pay homage to those family members who no longer tell jokes and stories, or make their specialty dish, or sit at the dinner table. We will carry on the family holiday traditions of passing out brown paper bags filled with goodies, we will learn family recipes as we wake up early and look forward to cooking for a room filled with loved ones. We will teach the younger generation that no gift wrapped in lavishly decorated paper with a shimmering bow will ever replace the priceless memories we make together. And God willing, we will reflect on the year when we were apart, ensuring we all stayed safe so we could gather together once again and carry on our beloved family holiday traditions.
Kristina Chavez is a graduate student at La Sierra University, earning her Master of Arts in English. Her hobbies include reading, writing, drawing, Netflix, and running with her German Shepherd Bella.
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