Do Orcs Play a Role in Your Family Traditions?

I grew up with very few traditions.  Though my parents were born and raised in China, we didn’t celebrate the Chinese New Year with lanterns, moon cakes, feasting or the fastidious cleaning of the house to sweep away the evil spirits (you could eat off my mom’s floors every day of the year!).  They decided they’d raise their children as “American” as they could and in the process, didn’t pass much Chinese culture along to their three children – all of us are sadly unilingual and didn’t pass along much “Chinese-ness” to our children beyond physical characteristics.  Consequently, we ended up growing up with no Chinese traditions and only some basic American ones: turkey on Thanksgiving, a tree and gifts on Christmas Day.  I cannot imagine how hard it was to raise three children in a second language while trying to figure out the strange and foreign world of flying reindeer, Santa and the benefits of fruit cake… so by no means is this a complaint.

All parents have to figure out what traditions they impart upon their children – what they pass down from their own families and what they uniquely create along the way.   I’m just now realizing how important and wonderful traditions have become for our family.  Our four kids count on our traditions and look forward to them.  They’ve become a stabilizing force through the ups and downs of every year.

Ever since our kids were young we’ve considered New Year’s Eve a time for family to be together.  This has transitioned from a home party with little kids to a grand family dinner at a restaurant in Woodstock, Vermont where we state our highs and lows of the year, play Would You Rather? and enjoy fun conversation over wonderful food and drink (as many Shirley Temples as the kids can put down) and the best toffee pudding with caramel dessert known to mankind.  And when we get home we continue our Lord of the Rings marathon where John and I tear up multiple times and the children laugh at us.  We cheer for Aragorn, Legolas, Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship and against the Orcs and all evil as we say goodbye to the old and ring in the new.

Each holiday and birthday brings with it our own traditions, most of which we’ve created since our first child was born.  These rituals (which I just realized often center around fattening foods – how very “American” of us…) keep family life moving forward while bringing us together.  They’ve been so good for the cohesion and stability of our family.  And therefore, I really hope they get passed along… Orcs and all.

How about you?  Do you have traditions you hope will continue when your kids have kids?


  • Alison Hodgson

    I read this as my husband and son were at our friends’ to see “Two Towers” having watched “The Lord of the Rings” last week. The plan was to have an all out marathon but sickness, work and insomnia intervened and they were happy to even view the two.

    I love reading about your parents. Did you celebrate Chinese New Year growing up?

  • Roy

    “Dear Jean: Your description of parents not passing on traditions at our home is correct. It is true how you, your sister, and brother grew up in our house. We are very sorry that we did not establish any of that for all of you; especially, we were not forceful enough to teach you Chinese. Our thought was since we live in the States, we want to be Americanized and melt into local culture. A Chinese saying: when you live in the North, you should be live as a northerner or if you live in the South, you should be a southerner. Our failure has been that we, on the surface, are adopted as Americans but in reality it is not true or successful. If we were able to do it again, we would have passed our Chinese Traditions on to you and let you learn everything else the American way which you do not need our help. You all have done well and are successful in this society but it would be better if we also provided you the Chinese tradition as well.” Love, Roy

    • Tara


      I know your daughter well, and I think you may have passed on more of your culture than you know. You may not have taught her Chinese or celebrated the Spring Festival in your house, but she was cooked in a Chinese stew, so to speak.

      Jean is one of the most hospitable people I know. There is always room for one more at the table, and that seems very Chinese to me. Unlike so many of her non-Chinese peers, Jean does not revere the individual over family and community. Just the opposite, and I imagine that is a tribute to her Chinese parents. Finally, I witnessed Jean take very good care of her father-in-law as he was dying. She treated him as though he were her own father, lying in bed with him in his last days and working with her sister-in-law to make sure everyone’s needs were met. Most Americans have not raised children who honor their elders the way yours does.

      Jean, is a tribute to your parenting, your Chinese parenting.

  • Julie LeVeen

    These thoughts are so interesting to me as my husband and I have an only son who just turned 4, adopted from China just 18 months ago. We are beginning to establish traditions such as decorating the tree at Christmas, New Year’s Day afternoon tea and going to a Chinese buffet at Easter. I came from a large extended family with well-defined big holiday traditions and rituals. Now, for us everything is a work in progress. We watched holiday specials such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Frosty, and I expect that movies will play a big role in future holiday seasons.

    In the meantime, Disney’s Very Merry Christmas Sing Along Songs DVD brings back memories of family sing alongs at the piano at my grandmother’s house. My son is loving rocking to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He declared, “We’ll celebrate and dance!” when we were talking about what to do at Christmas time. While my son is enrolled in Chinese school and learning Chinese, I still have to hope he won’t be tearing apart his red lucky money envelope like he did last year at age 3. It seems celebrating Chinese New Year is new for all of us. I am still perfecting the art of steaming dumplings and making rice in a rice cooker. Can spaghetti and meatballs count as noodles for longevity? I’d love to hear more favorite New Year’s and Chinese New Year traditions that families enjoy. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jean

    No apology needed Dad! Love you!!

  • Deborah Wunderli

    In my home growing up we had a lot of ‘Americanish’ traditions. My husbands home seemed to have very few, and seemingly none that he thought worth continuing.

    Once I married, I realized that my mother (aka ‘a fly by the seat of her pants Martha Stewart type’) had pulled off many of these traditions with little or no help and they were all a lot of work. As a young mom I was afraid of starting something I would dread having to continue and the last thing my husband wanted was a stressed out wife. Therefore, the years have slowly passed with very few traditions. However, in the last 2 years have I felt a great desire to begin to establish meaningful traditions and I have felt up to the task of creating them. I keep telling myself it’s not too late (oldest kid 19 youngest is 13). We decorate the tree together with ornaments that each have some kind of story or represent a period in our lives. We eat dinner in a pumpkin on Halloween…haven’t found a recipe everyone likes but they like the idea. We do go to church on Sunday and are working toward having “Family conversations” every Sunday evening. We go boating in the summer, gather for fireworks on the 4th of July and attend University of Utah football games in the fall. Maybe my husband and I should try to actually stay awake for New Years…although ringing in the new year ASLEEP is one of my favorite husband/wife traditions :)
    Any ideas for more traditions would be appreciated.

    Maybe after a couple of years, if I’m lucky, the kids will think that we always did what I just barely established as they were older :)

  • Alison Hodgson

    Roy, that made me cry. I can only imagine the challenge of raising your kids in another country with a second language. I agree with Tara that you passed on many important “Chinese” character strengths whether or not you wished them Gong Xi Fa Cai every new year.

    My dad is gone now and it really touches me to read a note from a loving father to his daughter. Thank you.

  • Roy

    To Jean and all of Jean’s friends, I am deeply touched while reading your kind comments. God bless you and your family. 祝你們新年健康快樂! (Wish you all a Healthy and Happy New Year!) Love to you all.