If you love the holiday season as much as I do, you probably have been feeling that the Christmas season has been upon us for a long time now. As the weather gets colder and we settle into holiday mode, you might start to watch some Christmas movies, carelessly enjoy a delicious cup of hot chocolate, and perhaps even play a good ol’ game of Secret Santa. At this point of the year, I’m excited to fly back home to warm up by the fireplace and spend Christmas with my family, enjoying the look on my sister’s face as it lights up like a Christmas tree when she finally opens her presents.
I’m a sucker for traditions, so around this time of the year I have already been annoying my family for several weeks about how we will spend the holidays: if they have already put up our Christmas tree, or if they are waiting for me to arrive home to finally take it out the cupboard, and on what the menu is for our Christmas dinner. I have always loved frantically going shopping for unique and personal gifts and the hectic scramble of thoughts as I try to think of what you can get for your family and friends, and despite telling myself that this year I won’t leave it for the last second, I find myself desperately searching for a last-minute gift on the 23rd of December in the overcrowded shopping centre – just to sprinkle some excitement to my holiday season. I have always loved being around my family once the festivities start, and I have an odd desire to find the ideal, most practical spot in our living room for our Christmas tree, which changes yearly. Not to mention how it should be decorated – for some reason, the ornaments always end up rearranged the night I get home.
Eventually, I always start to think back about how my perspective on holidays and how my traditions have changed drastically over the years. Back in Brazil, we gathered the whole family at my grandma’s house for a huge Christmas dinner, where everyone would contribute with a delicious home-cooked dish on Christmas Eve. Sometimes we would collaborate and spend the afternoon cooking together, enjoying some family time before merging with the rest of the party. The main dish that was always present for our dinner was a turkey my grandmother made, accompanied by some seasoned rice, shepherd’s pie and a farofa1. It was always fun to be the designated taster of the food, even though I was 6 or 7 and couldn’t yet differentiate when it was missing some salt or whatever other spice. Of course, my favourite part as a child was waking up extra early from the excitement of it being Christmas morning and running to my parent’s room to wake them and drag them to the presents under the Christmas tree. I still believe that the pure joy of shaking a wrapped present to try to discover what it is and that the excitement of tearing the wrapping paper is more enjoyable than actually receiving a gift.
Around the time I was 9, my parents and I would travel to America for December and January, and I would spend my holidays with the family of my dad’s work partner. It was interesting to experience their Christmas traditions, which differed from the one I was so accustomed to. We still enjoyed Christmas dinner on the 24th of December, but the food we prepared was obviously different. The first time we spent Christmas in America was also the first time I had cranberry sauce and bread stuffing. However, what shocked me the most was that their kids were incapable of waiting until Christmas morning to open their gifts. Therefore, for the first year or two, both families came to a compromise to satisfy us, children – having a late Christmas dinner allowed us to wait until midnight to open our gifts, so technically we opened them on Christmas day. Eventually, the wait became unbearable for the boys, and we would open gifts shortly after dinner, which was moved to an earlier time. On the bright side, this gave us enough time to digest part of our meal before bed, preventing us from feeling like we were about to explode as we slept. Despite not being the tradition I grew up accustomed to, I still enjoyed spending time with my family and seeing the joy on the kids’ faces as they opened their gifts.
Now that I’m living here in Amsterdam and can only go back home late in the month, I do miss the tree decorating part of getting into the holiday mood. I still thoroughly enjoy spending time with my family, putting my not-so-great cooking skills into action when helping to prepare dinner, and seeing the glow on my little sister’s face as she opens her gifts on the night of Christmas eve. We settled for allowing the kids to open their gifts after dinner – which now consists of whatever delicious dish my neighbours cook, our usual shepherd’s pie and my special apple crumble – but I still keep some of the more special gifts for Christmas morning. I’m extremely thankful to have the opportunity to spend this time with my family and loved ones, and I’m overjoyed to have developed our own little holiday traditions that suit our family. It brings an aspect of uniqueness and togetherness that we all appreciate.
Speaking about my holiday traditions would feel incomplete if New Years was not incorporated in the conversation. In Brazil, it was another excuse for a large meal and party-hopping for my family and me. However, when the clock struck midnight, we would always be with my intimate family members. It is also very typical to be at the beach for New Years and jump over 7 waves for good luck once January 1st comes around, while watching the fireworks around the city. This works fine if you live in a country where the water is nice and warm, but the ocean on the south coast of Portugal is pretty cold. Nevertheless, ever since we moved to Portugal, my aunt and I still go to the beach every January 1st for a dive in the cold daunting sea to refresh ourselves and start the year with no bad sentiments – or, as my aunt says, tirar as urucas 2. We usually pop by the beach after watching the fireworks from our rooftop, or, if I’m with my friends, I drag them to the closest beach so we can hop the seven waves. I’m not sure if I really believe in these sorts of superstitions, but if in doubt, with a beach available at a short distance, and for the sake of the tradition, I don’t mind getting my feet wet. It’s always better to get off to a good start, right?
Over the last couple of years, our traditions have merged into something sort of unrecognizable to my seven-year-old self, who would have probably strongly disliked the changes that have taken place. 20-year-old me, on the other hand, has learnt that life is full of changes, and it is much more pleasurable and gratifying to embrace them rather than to fight them. Essentially, change will always be followed by a new experience, which can go one of two ways: good or bad. However, I’ve discovered that change is actually rather inspiring – regardless of the outcome, you can always learn something new with the experiences and challenges life throws your way. So far, taking chances has always led to personal growth or at least to a ridiculous story I’m happy to retell – like the time I tripped over my friend’s shoe and my hands would not stop bleeding and I accidentally completely stained my friend’s white hoodie with my blood.
So this year, I encourage all my friends – and now you, fellow readers – to make it your New Year resolution to take a dip in the cold ocean water whenever you find yourself in doubt. Maybe you’ll find that the water is not so cold after all.
1 a typical Brazilian dish made of cassava flour and butter, often mixed with spices like cilantro.
2 a funny, northeast way of saying “to get rid of bad luck”
Written by Laiana Farias