The holidays are my favorite time of year, filled with traditions, family and hope for the new year. My family is a joyous melding of multicultural traditions from roots that run deep and afar around the world. American, German, French-Canadian, Guatemalan and Ethiopian flavors blend to create infused family traditions that respect the past, give comfort in the present and will bring joy years to come, I hope.
When I think about cherished holidays of my past, I remember food being the common string that tied our family gifts together and filled the air with familial aromas. We laughed and talked in the kitchen, weaving together lifelong relationships of love and enjoyment. Soups on Christmas and New Year’s Eve; cookies and candies made from German and French recipes passed down through generations; everyone decorating cookies and making special holiday dishes. We delivered baked goods to friends and family along with tidings of comfort and joy.
Now, as a mom I revel combining the traditions of my youth with that of my children’s birth countries and heritages. Guatemala and Ethiopia are rich with flavors and customs that have become a part of my family’s Feliz Navidad and Ganna (Christmas) traditions. We now enjoy making Ponche de Navidad (fruit punch) and holiday tamales as is done in Guatemala, and Ethiopian Dora Wat to celebrate Christmas.
During the first holidays with all three of my daughters in my arms, our family stayed in Ethiopia for seven weeks. We gathered with friends to decorate a gingerbread house and felt the comforts of home while halfway around the world. This continues to be a much-anticipated tradition in my home, where we laugh and play while creating our edible holiday house, and I tell the stories of our first Christmas in Ethiopia.
Last year, we were in Guatemala for Christmas and enjoyed the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of our first Navidad there. The fireworks on Christmas Eve ushered in the new tradition for my family of now placing the baby Jesus in our Nacimiento (Nativity) at midnight. Nacimiento’s are a family-centered tradition of the Christmas celebrations in Guatemala. I’m ever thankful as we gather during this joyous season when I gaze upon our symbolic nativities from my past and my daughters’ birth countries.
Years ago, as I ached waiting to become my daughters’ mom, I wrote my first Christmas letter to my precious children, long before they were born and before I saw their sweet faces. I placed the letter in the stocking that hung poignantly empty upon my mantle, without a name embroidered upon it. My Christmas letter was my first tradition with my children. In it, I told them how much I love them, how wanted they are and how I longed for them. I vowed to always be their loving mommy, then and forever, and that would never change. I promised to guide them through all the stages of their life showing them how precious, loved and wanted they are, while honoring their loss of their first family, before our family was united.
That first Christmas, I couldn’t even imagine how blessed I’d be one day with my three girlies and how wonderful it would be when I was given the most profound gift of my life–the opportunity to be my children’s mommy.
Ponche de Navidad recipe
(adapted from Christmas in Guatemala 101)
- 1.5 gallons water
- 1.5 lbs. sugar
- 1 fresh coconut, cut into small pieces
- 1 papaya, chopped
- 1 pineapple, chopped
- 6 apples, chopped
- 6 oranges, chopped
- 12 manzanilla (crabapples), optional
- 10 prunes or dates
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup assorted dried fruits
- 5 cinnamon sticks,
- 3 star anise
- Mix all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.
- Simmer for 2 hours.
- Refrigerate for for up to a week, reheat to serve again.
Makes 2 gallons.
Always with hope, Bobi