Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Winter Holiday Mash Up

By Kelly Raftery

This week’s topic is Festivals, but I just cannot seem to get my head around writing about Navruz, Kyrgyzstan’s springtime festival in the same week that saw the tragedy in Newtown.  In my husband’s country, people shivered with no heat or electricity as temperatures dipped to -4 degrees Fahrenheit.  I am sure that springtime seems very far away for most Kyrgyz right now and it just did not seem appropriate to write a light piece about festivals given all that has happened this past week.     
A leaping stag honors my husband's Kyrgyz tribe.

I wanted to tell you a bit about my family’s blended holiday traditions.  Let me start by saying that I am the daughter of a marriage of two different faiths.  My husband was brought up in the Soviet Union (no religion allowed, that would be “opiate of the masses”) and his country today has gone back to its pre-Soviet Islamic roots, but with healthy doses of Kyrgyz animism and realism thrown in.  So, we have our choice of winter holidays to observe.  I grew up with a Santa and Rudolph Christmas (sorry, there was no Christ present) and my husband had a tradition of Father Frost and New Year’s Eve family celebrations.

When we were first married, I relinquished Christmas and converted to New Year’s.  To be quite honest, I have never been a huge fan of Christmas.  I find baking cookies stressful and the emphasis in America on the commercial aspect of the holiday somewhat off-putting. So, as a young married couple, we  would put up the New Year tree a couple of days before Christmas, buy each other small gifts at post-Christmas sales (the best part about not celebrating until a week later!) and just spend a very quiet day at home.  
A clock ornament shows five minutes to midnight on New Year's Eve.
It was after my son was born that we began to celebrate Christmas again, accepting the futility of resisting the 
Cult of Santa Claus.  (Which, now that I think about it,  is probably precisely the same way I ended up celebrating Christmas as a child, as it was not my mother’s tradition.)  In our home, the Jolly Old Elf comes on Christmas Eve for our son, but Daddy’s holiday is New Year’s.  Christmas is the child’s holiday exclusively, as Santa only brings toys for little ones. 

Our tree, when decorated is the same mish mash of holidays--with traditional American ornaments snuggling up against a yurt here, or a camel there.  The Snow Maiden and Father Frost compete with Santa Claus and Rudolph for room in the branches.  A small clock shows hands pointed at five minutes until midnight next to a hearth with stockings hung on Christmas Eve.  The tree is topped not with the traditional star, but with a leaping stag, in honor of my husband’s Kyrgyz tribe.  It is not one set of traditions, but rather a tapestry of different traditions that we have woven over time.  I delight in my son pulling out ornament after ornament, exclaiming, “I love this one!  Look how beautiful!”      

Father Frost and the Snow Maiden hang alongside Santa Claus.
One tradition that I hold dear is our custom of giving.  Not gifts to each other (for in our home, the adults do not receive gifts) but to those less fortunate than ourselves.  My husband and I agree that while we may not have all that we want, we certainly have all that we need and we are all too aware that many worldwide do not have the basic necessities of life.  Every year, my son and I find a wish tree or board and make sure that another child’s desire is fulfilled.  At school, my son carefully chose a small paper snowman with the words, “Winter Coat” and “Snow Boots” written on it.  Picking a name, shopping and wrapping for someone we don’t even know is a key part of our holiday celebration, as much as calling all of my husband’s brothers and sisters and friends is on New Year’s Eve. 

A felt yurt nestles in the branches of the tree.
It is not a traditional winter celebration in any culture, but it is ours and for us, it works. So, mix together Christmas cookies, latkes and manty and what do you get?  My family’s winter holiday in all its glory. 

Wishing each of you  a wonderful holiday season and all the best in the New Year!


  1. Thanks for sharing Kelly! It sounds like your family has built a beautiful tradition!

  2. Kelly, I love watching how families with multi-cultural roots combine traditions. Yours is fascinating.

    At a writers conference I attended many years ago, the then-food editor of a national newspaper quoted the best query letter she had ever received: "My mother is German and my father is Japanese. I've always eaten potato salad with chopsticks."