Honoring Family Traditions

This one falls into the category of what it’s like to practice a religion that your extended family does not.

I’m lucky that a lot of my family and extended family know a fair amount about India and Hinduism. I have some extended family who are Hindu and some family married in that are Indian.

But still, there are many family traditions that come through a Christian path. One side of my family was Catholic and the other side was Lutheran. Many of them still practice, though my parents left both those churches for a Unitarian Universalist one, which allowed them more freedom in exploring Indian philosophy, meditation, and the study of Sanskrit.

When I was growing up, we still celebrated Christmas. It was an important connection to my Dad’s mother, who did not understand or feel comfortable about the Indian influences in our lives.

Sometime in the 1970s, before I was born, my southern Granny found a pattern in a magazine for a knit Christmas stocking and she made them for everyone in the family. First it was herself and her three children. Then it was her children’s spouses. Then it was their children. Everyone on my Dad’s side of the family has one of these stockings with their name sewn in at the top.

When my granny got older she passed the making of the stockings on to me because I love to knit. (Granny originally taught me, though I did so poorly that she gave up on me!) Somewhat ironically, it was I who made the stocking in this picture for my cousin’s wife, the first new member of the family in over twenty years.

I don’t feel very comfortable celebrating Christmas these days. As a convert, it’s important to me to create boundaries between my previous life and my current life.  But I don’t want those boundaries to separate me from my family, whom I love dearly.

Will I continue to make Christmas stockings for spouses and new children? Will I make Brad a family stocking? I don’t know. It is something that connects me to my family and I love that about it.

Even though I don’t personally celebrate Christmas anymore, I still like to spend that time visiting family. I want to honor those roots even as I find new traditions to establish in my new baby family.

For someone in a new religion and one not practiced by his or her extended family, there are myriad little moments like this of trying to figure out how to build traditions that reflect your beliefs while also honoring one’s connection to family.

I don’t have a solid answer. Part of me thinks life is complicated in a joyous sort of way and we can do all of it (India is known for a love of celebration and celebrating any holiday or festival available, whether part of one’s religion or not). Part of me wonders if this would be confusing to my future children. They will be part of traditions that their cousins will not. Then again, my closest friend and her children are Jewish so my kids will be seeing and participating in lots of Jewish celebrations too. I think maybe yes, we can do it all. We can enjoy all the traditions and not pick and choose among them. Time will tell!

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.


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