September 8, 2023

Reclaiming Lost Traditions

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A Holiday Feast

Holidays are an important time to include newcomers. Newcomers are often aching for the traditions and holiday magic they knew at home - and the connections with family and friends.

The Garcias* came from a strong family and community that knew generous and giving holiday traditions. I knew, when I met our new friends from Venezuela, the rich bond we would have; this was a kindred spirit family. Even though we have been bad at communicating (Google Translate is such a false hope), it was easy to find connections that helped us love each other.

Mariposa is a hard worker, determined to muscle past the separation from her beloved family and the nice home and friends she once had in the flowering hills of her hometown. She excels in making their tiny apartment cozy and lovely, making thoughtful notes and floral arrangements. Taizón is educated, a hard worker with a realistic eye to the future and so much love for his family. Their children, Gaspaina and Gocha, have my heart completely. While haunted by the recent traumas of their journey, the two teenage girls are still filled with light and hope. They try to get their homework done via the cursed Google Translate, learn how to get the dog to do tricks, and have fun playing Qbits and other non-speaking games with my boys.

At Thanksgiving, we found out that there was one special holiday tradition that was impossible for the Garcia Family to replicate here in Montana, Hallaca. With a days-long steaming process only possible in banana leaves, Mariposa’s “Martha Stewart” was despairing at the absence of the proper leaves. Luckily, my sister knew exactly how to acquire and ship from Latin markets in Salt Lake City to Montana - and the inexpensive leaves, more expensively shipped, were a miracle de Navidad!

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Mariposa holding the treasured banana leaves.

On Christmas Day, our friends dropped by with Christmas hallaca, jamon bread, and ensalada navidad. We were becoming part of their tradition, being adopted into their family and treated with flowers, gifts, lovely notes, and their brilliant love. We may have helped with some leaves, but they brought the magic of thoughtful and gentle friendship.

To escape a perilous existence - and then adapt to a new language, new work, new school, new friends is an incredible endeavor. But, to love, serve, and share in a new and strange home with foreign ways is an extraordinary contribution. I want everyone to understand and celebrate the gifts these new families bring to our communities.

What upcoming holiday can you make plans to include a newcomer for? Taking part in cultural exchange is a great way to deepen friendships.

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