Last night a friend of mine was lamenting about how their child didn't want to decorate Easter eggs this year because at age six, they were "over it" already. I thought back to last year in Macau when my boys got to dye eggs for the very first time thanks to a friend from America whose children couldn't bear to miss that tradition. My boys haven't asked me to color eggs this year, and after nearly thirteen years of being a parent and not taking part in that particular tradition even once, I'm not going to jump in and suggest it now.
The whole Easter egg thing started a long bedtime conversation between my husband and I and how there are so many traditions in American culture that we don't participate in, nor have a desire to be a part of at this stage of the game. Santa Claus and fancy Christmas dinners, the Easter Bunny, St. Patty's Day, the Tooth Fairy, and even Thanksgiving just really aren't part of our family's celebration. I assure you this isn't due to some religious or spiritual conviction. We always say yes when someone else invites us to their celebrations, showing up with a side dish and beverages. But without an invite, we tend not to do those things on our own.
I blame much of it on the fact that my first year as a parent I lived in Tokyo, Japan. Thinking it was the only opportunity I would ever have to live abroad (ha!), I jumped in wholeheartedly to embrace every single Japanese holiday and festival that came along, and left all the more Western traditions for another year.
But the next year we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, far from our families who had been the torch-bearers for doing certain things the same way each year because that's the way it's always been done. My husband worked in live entertainment, and holidays were his busiest times, because other families have traditions of seeing shows at Christmas or or Thanksgiving. So our tiny family of three spent our second and third year enjoying some of those traditional American holidays by greeting Daddy at the Stage Door with a store bought side dish to go along with the turkey someone in the cast or crew made in a friend's oven. We tried our best to make it to family holidays down in Southern California, but it didn't always happen. The show must go on!
Then Benjamin made his way into our family and we moved off to Hong Kong, another country filled with rich festivals and holidays we were eager to experience (once again thinking it would be our last time abroad!). At some point I realized we'd never introduced the kids to Santa or gone through the hassle of finding both the elusive white eggs and egg dye while living in Asia, and it just never seemed like a good time to start. Maybe next year, I'd think, when we're not living out of suitcases or packing up everything we own to move overseas yet again.
And then we found ourselves living in Macau, which has some of the most interesting and diverse holidays and festivals that stem from its Chinese and colonial Portuguese background. It was less important to me to find a way to celebrate American Independence Day (burgers at the Hard Rock Cafe anyone?) than it was to take the boys to the local cemetery on Qingming Festival day to see families who traveled far and wide to sit at their ancestors' tombs telling stories, stuffing themselves silly, and making burnt offerings of paper televisions and cardboard Louis Vuitton bags so their dead relatives could be happy in the afterlife. I tried to make a parallel to similar holidays in American culture (Qingming reminded me of Thanksgiving, since generations of families travel "home" to be together and eat until they fall asleep. The fact that it happens in a cemetery and that the cemetery is filled with thick smoke from all those offerings to the ancestors makes it unique among holidays).
And now here we are in Mainland China, an atheistic country which has fewer festivals and holidays with cultural significance than anywhere else I've ever lived. And yet even with that vacuum of festivals, I still haven't filled the space with things from our country of birth. And at the end of our long conversation last night, neither Michael nor I felt bad about that. In fact, we feel great joy and satisfaction from having been able to carve our own way among the cultures we have been fortunate enough to live in, taking some things for our own and discarding what no longer fits. It will be years before we know if this ends up being a positive thing for our children, but we are a family who values creativity and uniqueness and I'm proud that our values extend into the way we actually live life.
Maybe by the time I'm a grandma I'll get my act together and get to decorating some eggs for the grand kids. Unless of course we're off living in yet another country (seems increasingly likely, yes?), and in that case we'll teach them to make lanterns or kites or to simply appreciate that the world is large and has so much to offer if you're willing to not always do things the way they've always been done.
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