Sounds from a Silenced Tradition

Sounds from a Silenced Tradition

If a well-intended tradition falls through the cracks, is it forever silenced?


I asked this question after my 7-year-old daughter regaled us with her day at school. She ended her day by telling us about her art class. 


“And then, I worked on my, how do you say it, Mom? Pon-set-tea? Our teacher told us the whole story about a Mexican little girl and the red flower! You know it—right, Mom?”


I sat there, completely aghast. I realized I never told any of my three biracial children the legend of the poinsettia. What a fail. But I corrected her pronunciation and bubbled over about how it was my favorite story. My husband overheard. He leaned in with crossed arms and a puzzled look on his face.


“Poinsettias are Mexican? How?” 


Before I went off to lecture on the history, symbolism, and aesthetics of poinsettias, my daughter decided it was her time to shine. And shine, she did. Her animated retelling lit a spark in my soul like the star in the poinsettia story. My husband, however, remained unconvinced. He popped his signature, skeptical brow so high it almost touched his hairline. He leaned over to me and whispered, “If this tradition meant so much to you, why didn’t you share it sooner?”


Immediately, my face flushed. I’m the woman that used to have a pile of child-rearing books splayed out all over her nightstand with notes carefully written in their margins and interesting sections dog-earred. I read my car seat and car manuals for my first baby—twice—and still decided to have my car seat installed by a certified child safety inspection technician—also, twice. And when it came to Christmas traditions? My bucket list reigned supreme. Multiple advent calendars? Check. Tickets to a drive-thru holiday lights show? Got it. Eat your heart out, Clark Griswold.


But my oldest has now decorated nine Christmas trees, while my youngest has enjoyed four gift exchanges with his grandparents. My husband’s question took hold of my mind like garland around a Christmas tree—was it too late? So many of my Christmas inquiries were about introducing traditions, but did I miss making Christmas Navidad by missing this one?


I made my mind up. I announced I was buying a poinsettia! I, for sure, thought this was the ultimate Christmas fix, but it felt more like the Grinch returning all of Whoville’s Christmas presents and decorations. Too little, too late.


My kids went about their evenings without a second thought about a fresh poinsettia blooming in our living room. After everyone settled in for the night, I turned to my husband on our couch. Did I fail a beloved tradition?


We thought back to our oldest’s first Christmas morning. I remembered his forest green footie pajamas, and how his giggle echoed throughout our tiny apartment. He gently tugged and played with the bow from his first present. Next to his newly gifted inflatable ball pit stood our baby’s first Christmas tree.


It couldn’t have been more than 3 feet tall. I covered the tree in dollar store lights and plastic silver, red-glittered ornaments. That year, there wasn’t a trip to our favorite Christmas tree farm. It wasn’t even a real tree!


Our baby, nevertheless, delighted in the magic of Christmas morning. His joy radiated and reverberated in my memory. And it wasn’t too late.

Poinsettias or not, I could do whatever I hoped for this season. Some traditions will stay, and some will go, but what matters most is the sound that it makes. The giggles from seeing presents under the tree, the laughter from singing songs far too loud, the shouts of hooray from adding the last piece to the gingerbread house, or even the silent awe of listening to the retelling of a Navidad legend—all sounds of tradition. The question wasn’t whether tradition is silenced but rather what sound it’ll make. Tradition sounds different every year—and I can’t wait to hear its cherished symphonic sounds again this year and the next.