My friends and I have a running joke: I’m not American. This gets brought up anytime someone mentions something that I am completely unfamiliar with, didn’t grow up with or just don’t get. For instance, turkey and cranberry sauce. And Oregon Trail. (Incidentally, here’s a link to a free, browser-based version of the game, though you do have to do a little work to get it running. You’re welcome.) It is usually fun sharing our different histories and cultures. But it can get a bit challenging too, particularly when it comes to holidays: Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Filipinos have some very strong traditions. My family’s was particularly elaborate for New Year’s Eve.
Going into the new year meant starting fresh, and attracting luck was important — that’s some of the Chinese influence in our culture. So, first we made sure that we had 13 different types of round (or round-ish) fruit. One for each month of the coming year, and an extra one for luck. Then we took that theme to a whole other level and prepared 13 different kinds of food. Pasta, holiday ham, macaroni, chicken, rice cakes, ambrosia… we had it all. My job was always the garlic bread, and my sisters and I would work together on the peach graham freezer cake. My mom and dad and aunts would make everything else for a spread whose leftovers would generally last about a week.
At midnight, many things happened in quick succession. My parents would toss out coins for us to grab and gather, this symbolized wealth for the new year. My little sister would also jump off the stairs so that she might hopefully grow taller. Then we’d go out to the yard and set off the firecrackers: fountains, trompillo (a tube lit at either end which then spins), sparklers. And finally, it would be time to eat, and we’d make up plates to hand out to the neighbors, who would share a part of their table with us as well.
We didn’t really believe in the superstitions, but the traditions were fun and we stuck to them. It was all very exuberant, bright, loud. There was a lot of laughter and a sense of family and community.
Then, we moved to the US.
Fireworks are usually regulated here (for good reason), sometimes people don’t really know their neighbors, and here’s the biggest difference: New Year’s Eve is not usually a holiday that you spend with your family.
For the first couple years, we tried. It was weird and different and not quite right, particularly since we left my older sister in the Philippines with her family. The other thing was that we were growing older and a lot of the traditions were becoming silly like tossing coins around and jumping for extra height. We all pretty much worked in retail at the start, and our schedules sucked and no one had time to make 13 kinds of food, plus there weren’t enough of us to eat it all anyway.
So, slowly, that died down and my little sister and I tried the American way: partying.
I am not generally a party person. I am a huge introvert and I don’t like crowds of people I don’t know. But hey, I was in my early 20’s, and this was a chance to wear a cute dress and have some drinks, so why not?
Here’s why not: getting into a club on New Year’s Eve costs a ridiculous of money, I still wasn’t a party person and so it wasn’t really all that fun, and drunk people trying to hit on you just to have someone to kiss at midnight, well, that’s just not sexy.
I found a job at an airline and then moved to Seattle, which made the holidays become even more complicated. I still spent Christmas with my family, but that was it. My first New Year’s Eve in Seattle, I spent alone in a new apartment I had just moved into, literally that day, with two guys who are still my roommates.
The year after that, we invited fellow nerdy coworkers and friends, and we had a board game night. It was no different from the other board game nights we’d had during the rest of the year, except that we drank champagne at midnight.
Last year, one of those same friends invited us over to a cabin by the Duwamish River, and we all cooked dinner and drank peach wine and played board games. And at midnight we went to the backyard overlooking the river, set off little confetti poppers, had champagne, and then went back in and kept playing.
This year, we joined some friends in West Seattle. It was little couples’ affair, with appetizers and drinks and again, board games. Midnight saw us at the apartment’s rooftop with our glasses of champagne, watching fireworks all over Seattle. It was a lovely, chill night of good drinks and nice friends and lots of talk and laughter.
Life changes and brings you to new places. You travel far and sometimes, you end up somewhere you never imagined you’d be. And that’s okay. You keep the traditions that you can, and you make new ones when you can’t. Along the way, you celebrate life with your family… and those friends who become your family, too.