"Family traditions are a channel of memories through which fierce and unrequited longings surge, longings that define and shape a whole life."
January 1, 2017
Ever since I can remember, my mother would make me a yellow cake with pink icing for each and every one of my birthdays. I don't think pink was ever my favorite color but I looked forward to it and got excited as she placed the candles on the cake and sang Happy Birthday to me. It's been a very long time since my last yellow cake with pink icing tradition, but the memories will forever stay in my heart.
I think back to when I was a child and I'm constantly remembering times "when my family did..." "when my mom and dad..", "when my brother and I..." Most of that, has made me into the woman that I've become. I want my children to look back and feel warm and fuzzy as they remember the times spent cultivating our family traditions.
I love, love, love this time of year. It gets hectic with 3 birthdays in our household, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I stress out because I don't always plan early enough, but I wouldn't change a thing. Yes, it's bittersweet... I miss spending the holidays with my parents. The fact that they're not here just reinforces the need for starting my own traditions.
Christmas was great when I was a kid. We didn't have much, but I didn't know it. My parents were pros at keeping their struggles from their children. We'd decorate our little two bedroom apartment, beautifully. The artificial tree would go up and we'd string those 99 cent store red, white and green lights around it. On Christmas day we'd hop into my father's dusty brown Grand Torino and head over to my aunt's house. My entire family would squeeze into her living room for our annual Secret Santa Christmas celebration. My mom had 7 brothers and sisters, which meant I had a shitload of cousins. We'd all sit on the couch, in age order, waiting for our names to be called. My mom or one of her sisters would make a big production of yelling out each kid's name in their thick Haitian accents as we all made failed attempts at waiting patiently. After receiving "the gift," that you waited an entire month for (a month, because we always picked names on Thanksgiving Day), my mother's oldest sister would silence the crowd so she could hand out her gift to each of us. She'd pull out a huge garbage bag and pass around hair bows to all the girls, socks to all the boys, handkerchiefs to the men and lipsticks to her sisters. We'd snicker and giggle, thinking "really?! dollar store stuff?" Like I said, it was a lot of us, so anything more than "dollar store stuff' would have left her broke. Looking back, however, I know realize that it was sweet and very thoughtful. She wanted to make sure that every person received at least one gift that day. We'd sing happy birthday to the December babies, my cousins and I would perform some ridiculous skit and we'd enjoy a traditional Haitian dinner. On our way out, we'd give hugs, kisses and nuggies, telling everyone that we'd see them all next week.
The Sunday after New Year's we'd meet at my aunt's house...again, for what she called "King and Queen Day." It was a fake holiday that she made up, probably because she knew that we wouldn't see each other again until Easter. On King and Queen Day, she baked cupcakes and wrap them each in tin foil. A batch for the boys and one for the girls. After dinner, she'd put them out and go through the rules:
1. Each child gets ONLY one cupcake
2. Everyone unwraps their cupcake at the same time
3. NO ONE eats their cupcake for fear of choking
We were prohibited from eating the cupcake, not because it tasted bad but, because she'd place a ring in 2 of them. The boy that found the ring, in his chosen cupcake, would be crowned king and the girl would be crowned queen. They'd each get $20 and would be declared "RULER OF THE FAMILY" for the next year. This meant nothing, but it sounded really cool.
When it was time, we'd rip open the foil and cupcake bits would fly everywhere. Some that didn't find the ring shed tears, while others acted like it was no big deal. It was always fun when one of the younger kids was crowned. They felt like they had a little power until someone bigger threw them down and farted on their head. Many of us would claim that we wanted to be anywhere but there but we'd be lying because we all had a blast. The memories were good, but times have definitely changed.
We all grew up and the family has since disbanded due to varying degrees of family drama. I have my moments where I wish my children had the opportunity to experience Secret Santa Christmas or King and Queen Day, but they are few and far between. In those moments, however, I'm reminded of the importance to start my own traditions.
For years to come, I hope my girls will continue to enjoy spending this time of year creating memories. I want them to look back and remember Thanksgiving day, where they'd help me make dinner, while we watched the parade, in the morning. And spend the evening with Charlie Brown as he scrambles to give his friends the perfect Thanksgiving. We'd wake up early the next morning, get some Brooklyn bagels and enjoy turkey sandwiches and leftovers for breakfast - the only day of the year this is allowed. We'd put up the tree as Christmas classics played in the background and carefully hang our "oh so sentimental" ornaments. We'd watch a Charlie Brown Christmas, dance to Linus and Lucy and Christmas Time is Here, listening as Charlie B. teaches us the true meaning of the holiday.
Over the next month we'd spend every moment in the car either listening Christmas music on 106.7 or arguing over the fact that Mom listens to too much Christmas music as we, not so patiently, wait for a chaotic Shea Christmas Eve. The girls would spend the evening with their grandmother, 9 aunts and uncles and over 30 + cousins filling garbage bags with wrapping paper and a slew of gifts. Then New Year's Eve would roll around where we'd celebrate my birthday and stay up all night, eating snacks and drinking sparkling cider while waiting for the ball to drop. I'd obsess over making sure that that we had a clean house going into the new year, it's a caribbean thing, while making "happy new year" soup joumou. I'd prep my neck bones and black eyed peas, knowing that I'd be the only eating them, which didn't matter because black eyed peas are good luck for the new year. I'm Haitian, I was born superstitious.
I look forward to the days when my girls will tell stories to their children about the traditions that we share throughout our merry holiday season.
From my family to yours, happiest of holidays to everyone. Have a prosperous and fulfilling New Year!