Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Evolving traditions for the modern world

 As a few people have noted, the holiday season has begun, and with it, the good, the bad, and the sad of family traditions. I decided that rather than write something erudite about the creative arts, I would, like Donis, add my own evolving traditions over the past three quarters of a century.

I was born in Montreal, my mother a native Anglo-Montrealer going back several generations and my father born in a Newfoundland outport and arriving in Montreal as a McGill student via a circuitous route. Both were of British Isles stock, equal parts Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English, and brought to the Christmas table many of the traditions of "back home". We had a huge turkey with stuffing inside it - chopped celery, onions, turkey liver, walnuts, chunks of bread, sage, thyme, and sometimes rosemary. Mashed potatoes smothered in the gravy made from the drippings, peas, cranberry sauce, plum pudding set afire in brandy and served with hard sauce, and as many chocolates as we kids could handle. It was not a meal for the faint-hearted.

This meal was served mid-afternoon on Christmas Day. In the morning we opened stockings and presents under the tree and then while my mother ran around the kitchen, my father read us the portion of Dickens' The Christmas Carol about the Cratchet Christmas dinner. He was a university professor and delivered a dramatic reading in his powerful, sonorous voice. 

We often had an extra guest or two at the table, often one of my father's foreign students who was far from home. Christmas crackers sat at each place setting and once they were pulled, we all had to wear the silly paper crowns.

My mother was the undisputed queen of the day, and she presided over Christmas dinner long after we all left home, until she moved into a retirement home at the age of 87. By then, I had married and had my own children. My husband was Jewish, so although we continued to share Christmas with my extended family, in our own house we switched our celebration to Hanukah. My husband was an only child whose parents were dead and who had no family in the city, so we developed our own traditions. We made latkes and lit several menorahs each night for the eight nights. To make it festive, we made Hanukah-themed decorations, played Hanukah games such as dreidel, and sang traditional hanukah songs and lively Yiddish and Hebrew ditties. All these we learned from records and tapes and I played them on the piano. Hanukah was a playful, joyous holiday, and our three children got a small present every night!

This is the combination of celebrations that we continue today. As my mother grew old and later died, my sister and then her sons hosted the large extended family Christmas dinner. As spouses, in-laws, and grandchildren appeared, the crowd grew. This year I expect there will be about twenty-five people around my nephew's table. We all pitch in with some side dishes, but the turkey remains the piece de resistance.

As my own children grew up, moved to other cities, and began their own families, we have worked hard to maintain the tradition of all the family getting together. Christmas is easier to coordinate because both school and work holidays take place around that holiday, but the dates of Hanukah change every year. Sometimes they coincide with Christmas, but often, such as this year, Hanukah is over before Christmas holidays begin. It's not possible for my family to all get together for one of the nights of Hanukah. So, ever flexible, I instituted "Fradkin's famous Ninth Night of Hanukah" so that one of the days of the Christmas holiday, when my children are all at my house, becomes our joint Hanukah celebration. This year, it will be December 26. My motto is "better late than never".  We have the traditional latkes, light several menorahs, and have a festive meal. We are now introducing my grandchildren to the songs and the dreidel game. 

In recognition of the diversity in our family, I have a tree that is decorated in blue and white and we hang stockings on Christmas morning for the grandchildren before heading over to my nephew's for the big feast. I believe combining and honouring both traditions enriches the family and gives us twice the chance to celebrate together. 

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Holidays to everyone, and may 2024 be a year of happiness and peace everywhere!

1 comment:

Sybil Johnson said...

Always fun to see other people's traditions.