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Adopting a holiday

staff note

The holiday season is here, with bright lights, warm drinks and cold noses. Neighborhoods sparkle with colored lights hung on houses and scattered on wire formed into the shapes of reindeer, snowmen and icicles, houses swell with the sound of laughter and scrumptious smells drift through the air.

My family celebrates Christmas during the winter holiday season. We put up lights outside our house, bake cookies for “Santa” — even though my sister and I are both old enough to know it’s actually our parents — and exchange gifts on the morning of Dec. 25.

We also put up a moderately-sized plastic tree, decorated with the ornaments we’ve amassed through the years. But we don’t have one this year. My parents threw out the tree last Christmas. My sister and I were sad, but it was time to let it go. Maybe we’ll buy a new one this year. We’d had it for as long as I can remember, and the built-in lights had begun to go out at random times.

Our holiday celebrations also include shuttling ourselves to various parties hosted by family friends, some of whom I know better than others. We always bring a dish or three with us, but not the “traditional” fare. No turkeys or ham or other large meat dishes, no gravy or cranberry sauce, no homemade pies unless I’m the one to make them. Instead, our spread features fish cooked in soy sauce and rice wine, sautéed vegetables and nian gao — a steamed, sticky, sweet rice flour cake — for dessert.

Sometimes we host these get-togethers, but we don’t invite extended family. People always say the holidays are a time to focus on family, but most of mine is halfway across the world. We can’t invite them over without extensive planning and saving for the trip because they don’t live down the street or even a few states away. They live in China, and not all in the same place. For them to all travel to meet us here every year is impractical and expensive, and we have the same issues with us traveling to them.

Without that family reunion during the winter holiday season, I have felt like I’ve missed something, some part of what is portrayed as the quintessential American culture — that experience of having grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins over for a dinner, while wearing warm Christmas sweaters and bearing gifts and rich foods.

But I have something else. I spend Christmas with my mom and dad, my younger sister and lots of friends. The community we surround ourselves with is no less important, and for me, is closer both in distance and in our relationships. I know my friends better than I will ever know my extended family because our visits to China are once every four or five years.

If there were a word like “Friendsgiving” but for Christmas, that’s what I would call my winter holidays. Our get-togethers with other Asian American families often go until midnight, the parents and children splitting off to their own activities. Even at 18 years old, I still sit at the kids table, and after we’re done eating, we usually go play a game or watch a movie or a TV show. Recently, we’ve been watching “Stranger Things,” but I have fond memories of playing “The Impossible Quiz” or “Fireboy and Watergirl” and sending each other reminders to bring extra Wii remotes to maximize playing time for “Super Mario Bros.” or “Mario Kart.”

Although I wouldn’t say that I’ve always spent the holidays with the people I chose — often I don’t know we’re heading to a party until the day of or the night before — I would say that I’ve spent every holiday in good company. I haven’t had what people see as a typical Christmas, but that’s the nature of being born to immigrant parents. My parents adopted the traditions they liked, and combined them with customs from their hometowns.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve done much the same. I go to the parties with my parents and sister and still have a lot of fun, but these past couple years, I’ve added another tradition with my closest friends. We’ve organized small parties for just us, to do our own dinner, movie and gift exchange.

Now that I’m in college, I do think about a time when I’m going to move out and live on my own. I suppose I’ll create some of my own holiday traditions, but I hope to keep some of my childhood ones. And to have a tree.


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