As a family historian, you’d expect that my household would be full of ethnic traditions that have been passed from generation to generation, but actually our family traditions are a bit of a smorgasbord from around the world.
My daughter has been embracing her German heritage lately and came home from the Chicago Christkindlmarket with a “German pickle ornament.” She told me I was to hide the pickle on the tree and when she found it, I had to give her a dollar. Since I have no known German ancestors, I wasn’t familiar with this tradition. Curious, I looked it up, and while there are a number of speculative theories on the origins of the pickle ornament, I didn’t see any evidence pointing to it being an old German custom.
When I was growing up, we used to put luminarias up and down the path to our house. These were simply paper bags filled with sand to weight them, with a candle burning inside. Our local church sold them for charity and I grew up thinking it was a local thing. Turns out luminarias, or farolitos as they’re also called, are a tradition of the Southwest U.S. and Mexico. Here in the Midwest, in some years the paper bags were no match for snow and high winds, but when they did stay lit, it was a beautiful and welcoming sight.
While we do have traditions regarding some of the treats we make for Christmas, there again, none seem to reflect any one particular place. While many of the recipes have been passed down from my grandparents, just as many were shared by friends and neighbors over the years.
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. When I look at my AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate, I am probably as much of a hodgepodge as the traditions I find myself observing for the holidays. As families blended over the years, traditions evolved and so did the holiday season. As traditions and holidays come together, they bring people together, and isn’t that what this season is about?
While I’ll probably always be looking for ways to bring my heritage into the holiday season, I’ll also be embracing new traditions. The pickle? Yes, it’s hanging on my tree between the ornament that hung on my grandparents’ tree and the one with the Polish eagle that I bought a few years ago online. And I’ll probably give Maddy a dollar when she spots it, too.
Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, or some other holiday, I wish you peace, love, and happiness this holiday season.