Friday, October 3, 2008

Traditions and heirlooms (August 17, 2007)

As those of you who read my blog or know me slightly will have realised, I LOVE tradtions. I want to keep them, I want to include them, I want to start them. Traditions give me a sense of belonging, a sense of being not just an individual but an important shackle in passing on a legacy.
Of course, being thirty, I am the child of people who grew up in the fifties, sixties and had me in the seventies... the time when all traditions where thrown overboard. I remember a friend of my mother recently remniscing about her mother throwing out things that now would be extremely valubale, like silver toiletry sets because: who would want that old stuff anyhow?
Luckily, my mother, underneath the veneer of the sixties and seventees always has had a feel for tradition herself and she respects it in me, so some traditions that she started I can now carry on with my children. And of course there are the country wide traditions that we sometimes take for granted.
This leads to a lot of interesting new discoveries. Some things that are country wide tradition just don't exist somewhere else. I love to learn about American traditions and family traditions. Turkey on Thanksgiving for one, as well as the little yello American flag with blueberries that my mother in law makes, and that her mother made, to celebrate the fourth of july.
Being in a different country, also sometimes puts me in a bit of hot water. Adding Thanksgiving to my list of holidays is easy enough. But what to do with Santa Claus? He does not come in Belgium, but we do have Saint Nicholas, who comes on december sixth and gives the children presents that he puts in their shoes. (Aparently, Santa Claus developed from this). At Christmas, gifts are given again to everyone, not just children, but they are not given by some figure who rides over the rooftops on a horse (Saint Nicholas) or with a reindeer sled (Santa Claus) but by the loving family. Normally I would obey the Dutch saying; " 's lands wijs, is 's lands eer " somewhat related to "When in Rome, do as the Romans do", but both my husband and I like the fact that Saint Nicholas leaves Christmas as a much less commercial and more open to be focussed on Christ. Still... do we want to have the only child in the neighbourhood that does not get a visit from Santa? And can we recreate all the wonderful stories and atmosphere that Saint Nicholas brings in a country that largely has never heard of him?
Luckily, some other traditions are more easily imported. In Belgian it is a tradition at birth or at baptism to give out suikerbonen (sugar beans). An almond shaped candy of a dark chocolate filling surounded with a hard sugar coating, traditionally in white, with a few blue or pink ones sprinkled in depending on if you have a boy or a girl. Of course they can not be found in the US, but I brought boxes of them with me from Belgium during my last visit, as well as little lace bordered, embroidered sugar bean bags. Not counting on the American tradition of baby showers, I brought too little and have been making my own on my sewing machine as a first sewing project, and asked my mother to bring new sugarbeans when she comes over for the birthing and baptism of our baby.
We have planned a lot of traditions from both countries and families to surround both the birth and the baptism of our baby. I told you earlier about my own bassinet that was brought from Belgium so in his turn, my baby could sleep in it. Aside from that, my wedding veil, will be forming a canopy over it, an old Belgian tradition. I can't bring myself to follow another one, to have the veil cut up and made into a baptismal gown, but that is easily solved as my mother in law has saved the baptismal gown that my husband wore and now that one hangs ready for him to wear.
From my side of the family, a simple wooden bowl in which I was baptised at home (as I said, these were the seventies) will be brought and we will probably fill it with water and have some flowers floating in it or something to add it to the symbols.
The birth anouncement is another thing. In Belgium these go out of the door the day of the birth or, if it is in the middle of the night, the day after. They are prepared with the printer, the father calls in the date and weight, and then they are immediately printed and send off the same or the next day. On it there is of course the name of the baby, the parents, godparents, the home adress and the adress in the hospital so the people can still come and visit the mother on the maternity ward those first four days. The cards are also somewhat more elaborate than the cards I've seen used in the US, each having a little text or something funny... the design of our birth anouncement is very important to me. We're trying to make something special again that will work in both languages. We will not rush the cards out of the door though, since you have to be out of the hospital in two days and there is really no chance that the people will be able to visit you there, except the very closest family that has been called as soon as the baby is born.
There will be other things, heirlooms like my own bassinet or the lace bordered sheets from a long standing friend of the family that will surround my baby coming into the world. The small tradition of not sending a child to bed without making the sign of the cross on his brow, as my parents did with me since the day I was born. The crochetted receiving blanket that my mother has made to receive the first little grandchild. The rosary of my grandmother that I will take with me when he is baptised. Small things... small shackles that will place my baby in a chain from past to future, a heritage that now, like two toned metal will belong to two countries as well as two families. I hope later, when he is old enough to know about these things, he will smile at the thought his parents gave to his heritage and the way they looked to his future. The way a plant grows, is determined quite a bit by the soil in which it can plant it's roots. Our past is that soil and we hope to make it as rich as possible.

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