The holidays are a time when people often connect with their heritage by making recipes that have been passed down the generations. Why? Because that is what has always been done. And these recipes could come from a number of different sources: it was brought over from “The Old Country,” it is a traditional food that is made in our country of origin and we are trying to recapture that, Grandma always made those cookies, or whatever other reason.
Throughout these traditions, society and fate have thrown two questions my way recently that make me wonder why we do the things we do.
The first question came from a statement that was issued on The Tenement Museum’s Instagram page (dated December 22, 2018), where someone named Gemma is quoted saying:
“Free from the confines of English society, my parents were able to pick and choose which food customs to keep and which to leave behind.”
What a fascinating thought. Once immigrants left their country, they were able to choose which things they wanted to bring and carry those traditions on and which they chose they are better without. And throughout the generations since, my ancestors didn’t carry on all the traditions that were passed on to them. But each generation gets to choose which ones they want to keep, which traditions they want to add (maybe from other cultures or just from America), and which ones they want to reintroduce.
Another thing that needs to be kept in mind is once those immigrants boarded the boat to come to America, they were no longer that ethnicity, but they were now __________-American. The traditions in their homelands changed. For example, I kind of doubt that my Swedish great-grandfather partook in fika because he had other things to occupy his time, like learning English and establishing himself in a new country. And with the mixture of different ethnicities within the same boat, tenement, village, they were witnessing other traditions all over the place.
As a Scandinavian-descendant, I have never eaten lamb’s head or lutefisk. As an Irish/British Isles-descendant, I have never eaten figgy pudding and frankly do not like tea. It is ultimately up to me to decide if I want to reintroduce those types of recipes into the holiday menus (or even everyday menus) or if they were just best left behind in Europe.
The second question came from the Minnesota Historical Society in an exhibit on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota regarding race:
What part of your culture would you take to your new home?
Imagining what my ancestors were allowed/able to bring over across the ocean, they had to pick and choose carefully what to put into their trunks/luggage. One or two outfits, provisions, Bible, money, and likely not much else. But even in today’s society where transportation is easier for a good percentage of the world’s population, they cannot take everything they have. So what would they bring? What would they want to pass down?
As people die, libraries of information die with it. It is within us that we bring our most important parts of our culture and eventually they become interwoven with the new culture. And therefore keeping those traditions alive help make your family’s culture endure the generations.
The holidays are soon coming to an end and a new year is upon us. But as we transition from one year to the next, one generation to the next, one culture to the next, what are you bringing? What is worthy to hold on to?