A tapestry of traditions

The Leaping Stag, representing my husband’s tribe.

By Kelly Raftery

Holidays – a time for friends, faith, family and traditions. What happens when a marriage combines multiple traditions?

I should start by sharing that my mother was Jewish and my father was Irish Catholic. My husband, who is Kyrgyz, grew up in the Soviet Union – no religion allowed, that would have been “opiate of the masses.” We have our choice of winter holidays to observe. I grew up with Santa and Rudolph, but no midnight mass or Christ child. Latkes, but no menorah. My husband holds dear Father Frost and New Year’s Eve celebrations with family.

A yurt nestles in the branches of the tree.

Our first holiday season, I relinquished Christmas and converted to New Year’s. I have never been a huge fan of Christmas. I find the holidays stressful and the emphasis in America on the commercial aspects off-putting. As a young married couple, we would put up the New Year tree a couple of days before Christmas and buy each other small gifts at post-Christmas sales – the best part about not celebrating until a week later!

It was after my son was born that we began to celebrate Christmas again, accepting the futility of resisting the Cult of Santa Claus. In our home, the Jolly Old Elf comes on Christmas Eve for our son, but Daddy’s holiday is New Year. Christmas is a child’s holiday exclusively, as Santa only brings toys for little ones.

Our tree is the same mish mash of holidays – with traditional American ornaments snuggling up against a yurt here, 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 top of the tree features 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.

Father Frost and the Snow Maiden

One tradition that we do hold dear is our custom of giving. Not gifts to each other, but to those less fortunate than ourselves. While we may not have all that we want, we certainly have all that we need and we know that many worldwide do not have necessities. 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 do not know is a key part of our holiday celebration, as much as calling all of my husband’s family members and friends is on New Year’s Eve.

It is not a traditional winter celebration in any culture, but it is our tradition and it works for us. Mix together Christmas cookies, latkes, 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!

Five minutes to midnight.

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