It’s sometimes difficult for new couples to blend holiday traditions, but my situation was a little unique. My husband Eduardo is from Peru, and his Christmas traditions are markedly different than mine. In Peru, Papá Noel (Santa Claus) is known to bring gifts, but the baby Jesus is thought to bring presents to Peruvian children. The children would get a few presents, usually something useful. At midnight, the baby Jesus is placed in the manger of the family’s Nativity, and thus Christmas begins. Panetón and spiced hot chocolate are served; then the family attends Midnight Mass. When they return from church, the family eats a traditional, specially selected and spiced turkey (or chicken if turkey cannot be afforded, which is a very sad occasion!) with onion salsa and pan drippings, special side dishes, and alcoholic beverages. In the middle of the night! That would have been the most exciting thing to me in the world, as a child.
On the other hand, although my father is Swedish-German-English and my mother is of German descent, my family’s traditions are American with an English bent. We had an advent calendar, and all five of us kids would fight to be the one to take the last candy off on Christmas Eve. That night, we would have seafood for dinner – usually Seafood Newburg or Coquille St. Jacques – and would lie awake, listening for Santa’s reindeer hoofprints on the roof. We would wait on the landing for my mother to awaken (she had to have her coffee), becoming more anxious with every minute, until we could tear into the stacks of presents and our stuffed stockings. There was always an orange in the toe, which we never understood – but knew that no Christmas stocking was complete without it. Then came 10:00 Mass, then a big breakfast of bacon and eggs, a warm, fragrant onion bread from the German deli, and perhaps some smoked salmon. We weren’t hungry when dinner came, but we gorged anyway: standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding made with beef suet, crisp salty potatoes, puffy rolls, apple pie and ice cream (and perhaps some cheddar cheese). And yes, a fruitcake with hard sauce (which no one ever ate).
How to mesh two very different cultures’ traditions? The difference between the two lay, for me, in the purpose and meaning: the Peruvian traditions are more centered on religion, whereas the American traditions are more material. But the common ground will always be the ritual of family traditions, passed from one generation to the next.
So when we decorate our tree, the first thing we do is hang the first ornament we bought as a couple – together. We stay up till midnight, have Peruvian alfajores filled with manjar blanco, pepparkakor, and hot chocolate. Just at the stroke of twelve, we place the Baby Jesus in the manger at the stroke of midnight. We leave cookies out for Santa, have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for dinner, eat panetón (and save the Peruvian turkey for New Year’s Eve).