Several years ago, I and a group of international volunteers scrambled together a Thanksgiving meal in Manchester, England. We represented the United States, Zambia and Syria, and thus our multicultural dinner featured tabbouleh with turkey, and Scottish tea cakes along with the customary pumpkin pie. Efforts to recreate the original holiday quickly became muddled up into something that encompassed us all.
Now, with a new half-American daughter growing up in New Zealand, I’m determined to maintain the cultural holidays that make my country unique. Or, better yet, create new holiday traditions that belong to our family. Because, as one belated birthday dinner turned into a Kiwi Thanksgiving, I realized that it’s the blending of celebrations with which we build an occasion to remember. Here’s how:
Compromise. My own father makes gravy differently than my father-in-law. And while I love this, Dad’s main contribution to the meal, I can appreciate Brian’s own homemade method. When creating new holiday traditions, the first thing you must do is compromise. Protect the elements that are most important, then confidently chop and change the rest for something suiting your current location.
Share your curiosity. Wear your enthusiasm with your pilgrim hat (or turkey headdress), and the other celebrants will turn out in matching eagerness. While I explained the history of Thanksgiving to my friends and family, their questions ran from basics – What did we eat? – to deeper queries – What were Canadians celebrating if they had no Mayflower? The more we talked, the more interesting and distinctive the holiday became.
Get creative. “We added silver ferns to make it Kiwi,” my boyfriend’s sister explained of her table settings. Tucking the caramel apple suckers, American candy Mom had sent over, into the carefully wrapped napkins, I decided the decorations were now complete. A piece of New Zealand, a piece of America, red and green and “festive-as.”
Embrace newness. I have never warmed plates in an oven. But if that’s what they did before a proper dinner in New Zealand, then I happily grabbed my fork and climbed on the bandwagon. Who said your shared traditions had to be massive things? Can’t they also occur in the smaller details?
Be proud. Yes, Americans put marshmallows on main dishes, mashed yams and sweet salads. Maybe these complex flavors don’t grace most Kiwi menus, where savory salads rule; but, I reckoned, isn’t this one of those Yankee treats they wouldn’t experience otherwise? So, even though the recipe never called for them, we threw the puffy candies on my fruit mix. Springsteen bragged “Born in the USA” over the speakers, and I made everyone eat one serving – and no, not as desert.
Add authenticity. If you could keep just one treasured tradition from your holiday at home, what would it be? Thanksgiving, for me and my daughter, just wouldn’t be worth eating if someone didn’t cook turkey.
Involve everyone. The more folks who join the preparations, the more personalities and individual contributions your celebration will be built upon. And in the end, rather than a staid, boring party of simple proportions, your final result will be a blast of foreign and familiar tastes, sights and smells.
Be grateful. For having family and friends to celebrate – people who will happily join you in cultural practices that aren’t theirs. After all, traditions give us roots and ground our identity – yet they are actually, easily, re-plantable.
How do you make new holiday traditions when you’re away from home?
~ Until the next adventure! ~ Kelli