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Tradition! Tradition!

To hold on tight or let them go? Traditions define how we celebrate.

Traditions provide comfort and familiarity that makes a holiday feel, well, like a holiday. When you are far from home, missing those rituals can cast a shadow over the occasion. Rather than despair, consider the opportunity to explore making new traditions and building on existing ones.

Growing up, one of my favorite movies was Fiddler on the Roof. The musical opens with the father, Tevye, singing a song called “Tradition.” I find myself humming along to the chorus randomly as things trigger memories of different traditions like when I see gingerbread cookies in the store. 

As foreigners in China, we have a unique opportunity to live in a culture still deeply rooted in tradition. We can also learn from our host culture, with its rapid modernization, that some traditions should be held onto tightly and others with a looser grip. 

Some traditions are important because they remind us of people while others hold religious significance. We may do things a certain way because that’s how our parents did them and it doesn’t feel like Christmas/Hanukkah/Thanksgiving/New Years unless certain pieces are in place. 

Holidays far from “home” and family can be difficult. When we can’t be near those we care about, we often rely on recreating traditions that we share with them to create the sense of normalcy and familiarity when so many other things are out of the ordinary. I admit to bringing back ingredients from the U.S. to make certain holiday foods. 

Separating the good traditions from the chaff

There is value to this routine and it may serve you well to pause and ask yourself “What about (this tradition) makes it so important to me?” You may find that it is more about the act of cooking for those you care about rather than what you are cooking that is important. Take this chance to ask those around you what traditions are important to them and why and you may find that you share common threads of holiday ways of being. 

Start new traditions

Living abroad also affords you an incredible opportunity to start new traditions. Shift perspectives and consider the freedom you have to celebrate holidays in new ways when you aren’t bound by the traditions you’ve followed in the past. What have you always wanted to do, but never had time try? What experiences are available to you this year that you might not be able to do in the future? 

"Love the one you're with"

Consider giving yourself permission to enjoy new things. Be fully present in the moment, regardless of whether that moment will build its way into your annual celebrations or not. Rather than spending time wishing you were eating your grandma’s famous pecan pie, remember the pie, be thankful for it and then allow yourself to come back to the here and now in Shanghai. Enjoy the people you are with and embrace the sharing of good food and good conversation.