(Written as an assignment demo for English IV at St. Edmund Catholic School)
Family holiday traditions at our family place are so much like holiday traditions anywhere in America or Louisiana or Acadiana, yet they’re so much not like another family’s holiday traditions. Like every household, our practices, rituals, and holiday habits are the blended traditions and celebrations that have come down for generations through both sides of mine and my wife’s families, all of them distinctly American, yet by now after almost 40 years of family, uniquely Pulling. The best way to understand the unique cultural contributions that make up our holiday style is to know a little bit about the family history.
Before we can get to the mélange of cultures and traditions, my family’s holidays are founded on historical American patterns. Thanksgiving, for example, did not come from Cajuns or Spaniards or any other sub-ethnic or cultural group—It’s a uniquely and historically American holiday, first declared by President Abraham Lincoln. It’s connected to the historical recollection of an original Thanksgiving in Colonial times when Native Americans and colonists threw a big feast bash at the end of harvest season with wild turkey, corn, pumpkins, and other traditional harvest-time dishes on the menu. From that all-American basis, my Cajun wife always bakes a turkey and always bakes pumpkin pies. Those are not traditional Cajun dishes, but Cajuns by now are as American as they are Cajun.
Similarly, for Christmas, Santa Clause visits the Pulling household, dressed in the red and white trimmed garb that’s recognizable on any Santa at any mall in any American cities during the holiday season, coast to coast and sea to shining sea. And, equally American at Christmas for our household is the distinctly-American commercial emphasis of shopping and spending. Nowhere else in the world do people celebrate Christmas so freely by swiping credit cards and staking out Black Friday vigils and gift-buying sprees.
While the foundations are all-American, though, my family, like most other American families, is a cultural blend, each of which contributes to the way we observe the holidays. My maternal grandmother was Spanish, a product of the Spanish-speaking Islenos who settled in St. Bernard Parish in the 1700’s and 1800’s. Those industrious Spaniards fished, hunted, and trapped in the marshes and bays of lower St. Bernard. Because of the bounty of seafood in their staple diet, many dishes we eat for the holidays have the flavor of St. Bernard. Corn bread dressing, for instance, becomes oyster dressing. And any gumbo from St. Bernard is a seafood gumbo because of the bounty of crabs, shrimp, and oysters that came from the marshes and bays.
My wife’s maternal generational side, on the other hand, is country prairie Cajun. Like the Islenos from my Daddy’s side, the Cajuns diet comes from the land that nurtured those subsistence and tenant farmers in generations past: la viande boucanee (smoked meat), wild game, boudin, and other distinctly Cajun delicacies that show up on the holiday tables from November through New Year’s. And our prairie Cajun holiday gumbo, as often as not, is chicken and sausage gumbo rather than seafood gumbo, because the prairie Cajuns did not have the bounteous seafood at their doorstep as did my Isleno forbears, but they did have hogs, sheep, cattle, and vegetable gardens.
Modern Conventions: Contributions from Child-Rearing in the 1980’s and 90’s
The ancestral traditions aren’t the only contributors to holidaze on Hill Street, of course. My two kids were born in the 1980’s, so the movies and TV shows of their generation have become engrained in the seasonal rituals. Home Alone, along with its myriad of sequels, and the Griswold clan’s comic exploits supplanted the classics of my childhood, such as A Christmas Carol and Miracle on 34th Street. I don’t believe my kids would even recognize the titles of those silver screen relics, but every Christmas, no matter that they’re grown adults now, they search the TV listings this time of year to find the comedies they grew up with. Year after year, over and over to the point that can recite entire passages of dialogue from the movies from memory, the kids hijack the TV programming schedule to view and review their oldies. Those movies have become almost cliché to me, but I suppose they would look at my generation’s shows the same way. And if they were writing this same piece a half of a generation from now, they would note the same kinds of holiday traditions evolution that makes up the stuff of an article like this.
In Conclusion . . .
Yes, for every generation, holiday customs are the unique and evolutionary combination of practices, habits, and routines that trace their way through our lives like little rivulets of tradition flowing from ancestral springs. And so the Pullings on Hill Street are connected to those ancestral springs both from the past and the present, allowing our former generations to fellowship with the present, even as the present shapes the future beyond our own generation.
And the end of it all: Happy Thanksgiving, and merry Christmas!