Imagine having to explain every American Holiday to an alien. Just walk through the customs and traditions for a moment…explain the characters, the colors, what people do to celebrate that day and why. In many cases it is absurd!
Well this is one of the things you have to look forward to if you are adopting an older child from a foreign country. It’s something I never really thought about, but every month or two throughout our first year home I’ve found myself back in that seat again, with two bright-eyed boys hanging on my every word (and asking for definitions when it’s new vocabulary), explaining turkey and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and pilgrims, or little men in green hats that hold secrets. It is so funny to explain things from scratch. They are right to think we are crazy.
Last weekend I completely forgot about St. Patrick’s day until the morning of. We had plans to enjoy Vietnamese food at a friend’s house that night, so corned beef was not on my mind. My sweet husband was on a flight home from a business trip and the kids and I were having a leisurely Saturday morning, the first one in some time without a basketball game for Alex. I made pancakes and let the boys watch cartoons. It wasn’t until later in the morning when we were getting ready to go to the store together that I thought about it. I said, “Hey guys! I forgot to tell you today is St. Patrick’s day,” and that they’d see lots of green things at the store and that they have to wear green in order to not get pinched. Their eyes widened and crinkled up at the same time. They were completely offended at the idea of being pinched, but then of course began chasing around and pinching each other. I tried to reassure them that strangers in the store would not start pinching them…
A pair of Eliana’s socks from her birthday gift from Nana had shamrocks on them and a little Leprechaun on the label. “Oh here!” I said, “This is a Leprechaun! They are from a country called Ireland. They are very small and if you can find one he will show you to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” Alex looked at me like I was insane. I watched him trying to process this weird list of information I’d just shared. And I had a moment like the time I was trying to explain Halloween for the first time, where I realized how insane we all really are. Dressing up in costumes and knocking on the doors of strangers who are then obliged to give you candy. What?
Anyway, We are almost through the year. I’ve explained every American holiday now except the approaching Easter. And this one is special. We will celebrate Palm Sunday and recognize Good Friday and the Passover and then Easter, as a remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our kids are well aware of our Savior’s work on the cross, so a couple of days ago I was talking to my five-year-old about this coming holiday and why we celebrate it. But of course if we have to go to Wal Mart for any reason over the next two weeks they will see the explosion of pastel colors and plastic eggs and rabbits, lambs and chicks. The American public version of Easter. How did we get there?
Charles and I used to hold elaborate Easter parties back when we lived in Washington DC. One year I decided to serve rabbit along with our typical salmon and lamb. I thought it was ironic and that my fellow Christ followers would enjoy the irony of eating rabbit on Easter…a display of irreverence to the secular worship of giant pink bunnies. Alas the rabbit, although deliciously roasted and quite tasty, was largely left untouched. I guess there is still an appreciation of the Easter Bunny, bearer of grassy baskets and layer of chocolate eggs, even among the devout. Or perhaps I was just faced yet again with un-adventurous eaters. We Americans tend to like our food wrapped in plastic with a tidy label on it rather than recognizable as the animal it once was. Rabbit is a little too wild for the comfort of some.
But I digress. I will say that guiding our kids through their first tour of America is an enormous privilege, including the chance to reflect on many, many aspects of our culture. It helps our trust process when Mommy or Daddy explains something that sounds like a made-up story, and then it comes true. The kids have a great sense of adventure and wonder that makes it really fun to draw them into the fold and see them participate in our cultural rituals.
And how about the privilege of creating our family’s own version of each holiday? Rituals for our children to remember years down the road, that draw us together and mark our common history, starting just last year. It’s beautiful.
So I have to confess I can’t WAIT to make Easter baskets! My Mom made the best Easter baskets for my sister and I growing up and I have waited many years to do the same for my own kids. Little baskets of treasures that they will not be told are from the Easter Bunny, but rather from Mommy and Daddy to celebrate this special day where we remember together the hope-filled gift of a risen Lord. I know it’s a stretch, but I’m still trying to figure all of this out.
One of my most memorable Easters was spent with new friends (and no one who knew me well) on the island of Santorini in Greece. I walked with all the inhabitants of that island to the Greek Orthodox church up on the hill to celebrate Midnight Service of the Resurrection on Holy Saturday. The Eternal Flame burns at the altar while all other lights are extinguished and the crowd waits in anticipatory darkness. The church was filled to beyond capacity and I stood shoulder to shoulder with Greeks of every age on the cobblestone street outside, each of us holding an unlit white candle. At the stroke of midnight the priest began to light the candles nearest him with the holy flame, each person in turn spreading the light to their neighbors until the church and the streets were filled with light from a thousand twinkling sources. “Christos Anesti” (Christ is Risen) is called out as each flame is passed, and the response “Alithos Anesti” (truly, He is risen). The church bells ring, the people smile and celebrate and kiss each other. And then everyone wanders joyously home to enjoy the feast of lamb prepared that morning and spit-roasted whole to barbequed perfection. That’s one of my favorite Easter memories. Now that’s a culture who knows how to celebrate Easter!
Maybe we will be able to incorporate some of these experiences into our family Easter. What are YOUR favorite Easter traditions and memories?
And now here’s an unrelated video: Eliana opening a birthday gift from her aunt, uncle and cousins. Cause y’all want some media: