family holiday traditions rituals

family holiday traditions rituals

For more than a decade, I spent Thanksgiving with a partner whose family was dedicated to the holiday in a way that was novel for someone who’d grown up in a Korean household where it was a non-event. (Our version of Thanksgiving followed the lunar calendar and the menu could not look more different from the all-American classics that were served in his home.)

At his parents’ place, there was the sausage stuffing that was introduced one year, early on in our relationship and perfected over time; as well as unchanged classics like his mom’s creamed onions, a decades-old recipe that was handwritten in cursive on an index card. Even Willie, the Labradoodle whom we later found out may, in fact, be a Portuguese Water Dog, turned up for the occasion with a festive handkerchief tied around his neck.

Thanksgiving wasn’t Thanksgiving until Aunt Mary arrived with a tupperware full of Nestlé Toll House cookies that we sneaked whenever we walked by the kitchen counter; and Jim made his grape punch, which was served in the same glass bowl every year, topped with orange slices. (Mary and Jim were siblings, and even into their 60s their older-sister-younger-brother dynamic remained unchanged.)

After Thanksgiving, we’d slide right into the Christmas season. With that came other cherished rituals like choosing a fir tree from the makeshift forest that lined the streets near our West Village apartment. Walking home, we’d debate names for it, always trying for something distinguished sounding like Charles or Douglas, last name Fir.

But what was once the most wonderful time of the year has now become the most bittersweet. After a long season of trying to make things work, the romantic relationship that shaped much of my twenties ended, as did all the beloved traditions we celebrated together.

This year, I found myself in my mom’s sun-dappled kitchen on the west coast, recreating that stuffing recipe from past Thanksgivings. As I chopped bread into small cubes, I realized that these traditions don’t have to fade away. The best parts can live on, as can the best memories, and even as I miss the way things were, I am held, briefly, by the familiar scent of sage and butter wafting from the oven.

If the holidays look different for you this year, I hope you feel held by the treasured moments that have passed but still make you smile, as well as by future ones that have yet to come. And if that’s hard to imagine right now, I hope you feel held, however briefly, by the many people like me who understand and carry your grief and wish to ease your heartache through sharing our stories.

What traditions or loved ones are you missing this year? What new ones have you created through the years? (Here are 10 wonderful ideas from readers, if you’re looking for inspiration!)

Jenny Jin is a beauty editor, writer and on-air expert based in Los Angeles. On Cup of Jo, she shared her week of outfits and has written about breakups and friendships. Find her on Instagram @jyjin, where she will happily reply to any DMs regarding life, sunscreen and K-pop sensation, BTS.

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