A Beautiful Mix of Holiday Traditions
Lauren Miller is a sunshine-addicted Florida transplant to Mississippi, a coffee-lover, a book-nerd, and a Noonday Ambassador. Lauren and her husband are in the process of adopting from Eastern Europe, and as the holidays arrive, she reflects on the beautiful ways that Christmas brings together families, cultures, and celebrations.
December 2004. Beijing, China. I was six months into a year-long teaching commitment in China. It was also my first Christmas away from home and my family. Just as the culture-shock began to wear off and I began to get used to the language and customs of this country that I was starting to fall in love with, the holidays rolled around and homesickness washed like a wave over me again. On top of it all, I had come down with THE sinus infection to end all sinus infections and spent most of Christmas Day in bed with a box of tissues and a humidifier for company. It was not my favorite Christmas, but it was a memorable one. Now, given the distance of time and space, other memories from that Christmas float to the surface. Curling up on a couch in front of the fireplace with my teammates, who were also experiencing their first Christmas away from home, and exchanging gifts. Twinkling lights in Beijing storefronts and Asian versions of Santa Claus EVERYWHERE. Teaching my 7- and 8-year-old Chinese students how to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” in English. Learning how to sing “Silent Night” in Chinese. The merging of two very different cultures into one holiday celebration.
Dujiangyen red holiday lanterns
Chinese and English teachers
December 2011. McComb, Mississippi. I was six months newly married – and newly moved to Mississippi, where my husband was from. I had moved back to Florida (where I grew up) after my years in Beijing, and was now enjoying the fact that Christmas was actually accompanied by cold weather, rather than the typical air-conditioned-Christmases I had been used to in south Florida. Being the newbie in my husband’s large family Christmas gathering, the traditions, stories and foods that flowed easily and familiarly to them felt – to me – like putting on a pair of new jeans, well-fitting but not quite lived-in yet. I loved the back-and-forth banter and easy conversation that flowed around the table, but at the same time, I struggled to remember who Uncle JJ was and if he was the one who lived in Kansas, or was it Indiana? My mom’s familiar Nuts ‘n Bolts (Chex mix) was replaced by a different, but no less addicting, holiday Chex mix. I was enveloped by new tastes and traditions. I reached across the table to grab a pepparkakar, a Swedish ginger cookie, from the plate in front of me. As the crunch of cinnamon, ginger and cloves hit my mouth, the taste of home and Christmas and memories wrapped around me like a blanket. This was my contribution to the Christmas cookie swap that year – a cookie that had made its appearance every Christmas since I could remember. My great-grandma had made them, then my grandma, and then my mom. Now it was my turn. My husband’s family traditions might be new to me, but they were my family now too, and pepparkakar cookies would be the thread that linked my childhood and grown-up Christmas traditions. The merging of two different family traditions into one holiday celebration.
December 2016. Magee, Mississippi. As the lights twinkle on the Christmas tree, I glance down the hall to the almost-finished bedrooms awaiting the arrival of our children from Eastern Europe. Next year’s Christmas will, hopefully, look completely different for us. As we near the completion of a very long adoption process, I try to imagine how our children will feel next year – far away from everything that was once familiar and home. What Christmas traditions, if any, will they miss? What foods will trigger memories of their home country? The conversations that feel easy for us will most likely be confusing and, at times, frustrating for them. And so, I browse Pinterest for foods from their home country. I read up on Christmas traditions in their country. I create a Spotify playlist with (hopefully) culturally appropriate holiday music from their home. (What on earth did we do before the internet?) And hopefully, when we gather to celebrate next year and one of them feels slightly overwhelmed by all the newness surrounding them, I’ll remember what it felt like celebrating Christmas in Beijing, or with my new family. And we will embrace with all our hearts the merging of two different cultures and families into one big jolly Christmas celebration.
Wishing you and yours a Christmas that combines familiar traditions with the making of new memories!
Meet Lauren Miller
Lauren Miller is a sunshine-addicted, Florida transplant to Mississippi, a coffee-lover and a book-nerd. As a former teacher, she’s had the opportunity to teach both in the U.S. and in Asia, and loves experiencing different cultures. She and her husband have one dog, Piper, who they adopted from a shelter and who considers herself a lap dog at 40 pounds. Lauren and her husband are currently in the process of adopting (children, not canines) internationally as well. Noonday’s work in vulnerable communities around the world, as well as its roots in adoption, made it a perfect fit for Lauren, and she loves connecting women across the globe through stories and jewelry. You can find her on her blog, Balloons of Hope, where she writes about rest, connection and finding hope in everyday life.