Friday, January 2, 2009

Holidays with the family

This is part 4 of you know what, started by you know who.

There are two words that I think best describe my holidays with the family -- traditionless and random. Before I even reached my teens, my mom decided that a Christmas tree was completely unnecessary and reminded my brother and I that once it was up, neither of us would be motivated to take it down, thus it would be better not to put one up at all. Among us, my brother has always been the biggest fan of traditions and tended to fight against the prevailing lack of caring for them in the rest of the family. Yet he didn't mind putting a random twist on them either. So one year instead of an artificial or real fir wonder he lugged home a real palm tree, much to my mother's dismay.

Holiday meals were another random affair in my family. While one year Christmas dinner would feature eggrolls, fri-chik (you vegis out there know what this is), cactus salad, stuffing (ooh, one traditional food on the list), panset and lemon meringue pie, the next would see salmon, various forms of fruit salad, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and carrot cake. The same went for Thanksgiving, when we got around to celebrating it at all.

The guest list for holiday occasions was also quite random and would most always include at least one person who was a complete stranger to me. From an early age, I think my mom wanted to ingrain in us the idea that many people in the world were less well off than our distinctly middle class family, whether that be monetarily, health-wise or otherwise. Thus, one Christmas season, when I was around 12, mom invited a young girl named Carla and her mom to stay with us. Carla had a heart defect and was due to get a transplant at the hospital where my mom works. After the transplant, Carla had to go on medication to keep her body from rejecting the heart, and this medicine made her face swell up, among other undesirable side effects. Yet Carla was a trooper and from that Christmas I remember the huge smile on her face as she opened her gifts. Not long after that holiday, Carla died after her body rejected the new heart, and her death is something I also associate with holidays with my family. And not just her death, but that of my father, who died a few days after New Year's the year before that.

We have photos of our family with some of our random holiday guests that my mom had literally met only days before at the hospital or elsewhere, found out that they had no where to go for the holiday, and invited them to dinner. I doubt any of us could come up with their names at this point.

Since I moved to Turkey almost 3 years ago now, holidays have become even more a jumble of cultures and hit and miss madness. And now, there are two sets to choose from, or avoid altogether, as well as those wonderful Turkish holiday fusions that I've mentioned in the past. This year we skipped out on Kurban Bayrami (the Feast of the Sacrifice), perhaps remembering all to vividly the gory scene from last year of a ram's blood spraying all over a wall in the village when the imam cut its throat. In fact, this year almost seemed like a protest, as we even stayed away from meat in our meals, cooking a big pot of lentils instead. For Thanksgiving I got together with a hodgpe podge of Americans, Canadiens and Turks for a dinner party, with fairly traditional foods compared to my family's fare -- well, outside of the cinnamon rolls and banana cream pie, but those were in addition to good ol' pumpkin pie. As for Christmas, that was pretty much a pass this year out of necessity, with both of us working. But we did the capitalists proud by sending ourselves some gifts from America, some of which are now stuck in customs limbo.

And though I am a traditionless wonder, I still get some sort of warped, vicarious pleasure from hearing about the big Christmas celebrations my brother has each year with his wife's family, which once I got to experience firsthand and which kind of blew my mind with all the giant stockings, gift-filled basement, tree-with-every-inch-covered-in-special-edition-ornament holiday dream of every middle America suburbanite.

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