By: Moira Perez
As we approach the winter holiday season in the US, many of us will have gatherings to attend, dinners to host, decorations to put up, candles to light, and gifts to give and receive. We will do all of this despite what some of our inner selves may be telling us: that we are grieving after another year defined by a global pandemic, social strife, and climate degradation.
But our participation in our traditions, far from being a passive acceptance of the status quo, can be an affirmation and a choice, an example of our human agency and power. Traditions are not pre-existing static vessels that magically contain cultural meaning and identity. They are spaces where we have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and our identities, as well as to create possibilities and openings.
This year, to insist on celebrating our traditions is a protest: a refusal to accept the present as it is, a strategy to reclaim power, a commitment to find joy. But traditions-as-protests work best in community and relationship because our strengths derive from being in solidarity with one another. This is a most essential fact of being human.
Granted, being in community and relationship is not uncomplicated. There will always be that person whose views we find problematic, or whose behavior makes us uncomfortable. We will also always be that person for someone else. Coming together brings our identities into sharper relief. They help us recognize our shared humanity while also pointing out important differences.
This winter, my plan is to be home in Puerto Rico for the holidays and observe some traditions with family and old friends. I may wear my New Year’s party hat a little sideways, cringe at some of the “parranda” songs, and even reluctantly attend mass. I will also probably have an epic fight (or two) with my beloved uncle, hug everyone a little longer than I should, and drink too much “coquito.” I will connect with my past, resist some of the present, and look to the future with hope.
As Darrie, my wise friend and colleague would put it: traditions are what make us “not just be home for the holiday, but be whole for the holidays.”