Coming Home to New Traditions

By Victoria Cano

I was never a cooking kid. Despite the many invitations into their separate kitchens I always refused my parents offers to help cook. I never made paprikash csirke with my mom or baked ziti with my dad. The kitchen and all its mysteries was the domain of parents. Except on Christmas. Because on Christmas we didn’t cook. We baked. 

Cooking, to me, was the Wild West. Full of strange ingredients, relying on instinct and secret troves of knowledge. Baking was different. There were a key set of players that could be rearranged into a thousand different delicious things. There were steps, there was order, there was control. And as a kid, in that, I found magic. 

For the past seven years I have missed those baking Christmases. I wasn’t with EITHER parent – both because I lived abroad and because of the pandemic. 

For many people, like me, this will literally be the first holiday season they have together with family in years.

And while that is so so wonderful. It presents a challenge many of us weren’t expecting. In the absence of our routines, in a world turned topsy turvey, traditions were rearranged. Adapted. Transformed. As were relationships and rituals. 

Right before the pandemic my mother had gone on a few dates with a guy, I barely remembered his name. Now I know him as Peter, my stepfather, and the man who made her feel loved enough she decided to move in with him after twenty years living on her own. The era of going to my grandmother’s house for the holiday too has ended (she’s moving in with my mom.) And my father, who, over the 25 years of their divorce only ever lived down the road, is moving the day after Christmas to Albany, 3.5 hours away.

There is a part of me that just wants to yell ‘Stop! Hang on a second! Let me catch up.”

At first, I felt like that little kid being invited back into my parents kitchen to cook.I don’t understand. Where is everything as I left it? Where is it all going? 

I’m a thirty year old kid and having these questions, these before bedtime fears. So too may many of your little ones. Routine and ritual can be so beneficial and comforting to a child. 

Kids love baking. 

So how do we talk to our children, both little and big, about life, the holidays as they now are, about a world where traditions sometimes have to change and rearrange?

Every year as I was growing up, my mother and I celebrated advent (the entire December month long lead up to Christmas.) Since I was 18 and moved away, we haven’t had much of a chance to spend that time together. I haven’t gotten to read to her her favorite Christmas Story (A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.) 

This year I have. And when I sit on the couch to do so, my grandmother is there too. And before we begin, Peter lights the Chanukah candles and sings Maoz Tzur. Later tonight I’ll help my father finish packing, moving for the first time to a place that is his and no one else’s. As I sit and read, I can see the advent candles flickering side by side with our menorah. 

It is indeed a strange new world. And that can scare kids and their grownups (and grownup kids) alike. But in the strangeness, new beauty and new wonders can be found. And as I sit and read, looking at the glowing world around me, I am reassured that everything is going to be fine, that the kids are going to be alright. Because they’ll learn that old traditions mesh with new ones, and you can make something together, in which everyone is involved. And, from where I’m sitting, that’s a wonderful thing. 

After I finish reading, I’ll watch the candles go out, wrap my dad his presents to open in his new house, and later I’ll help with the cooking (and the baking!)

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