Sobremesa, Traditions, and a Merry Christmas

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Put a “get things done” American and a laid-back “ya veremos” Spaniard next to each other at the dinner table and you’re sure to get two different answers to just about any question.

(We always have the most interesting sobremesas* in our casa!)

So, I thought I’d let you eavesdrop on one of our recent dinner debates. This time the topic was Christmas and our family traditions.

Me: D., quería hablarte sobre la idea de las tradiciones. Ahora que tenemos una hija, ¿no crees que deberíamos empezar a formar nuestras propias tradiciones navideñas? (Translation: “D., don’t you think, now that we have a daughter, that we should start our own Christmas family traditions?”)

D: Ya tenemos nuestras tradiciones: pasamos las navidades en familia, con comida, abriendo los regalos. Y, las otras, pues las iremos creando sobre la marcha. (“We already have traditions, like spending time with family, eating food, and opening gifts. And any new ones, well, we’ll create them as we go.”)

And so for the next 45 minutes D. and I went back and forth, parsing the syntax and semantics behind the questions: Are traditions made? Do we choose them? Or, do they just happen? (Yes, we’re nerds, I know.)

And, like all good sobremesas, ours that evening didn’t end with one clear-cut answer. Rather, we agreed to acknowledge that some traditions arise organically, just happening and repeating themselves over time, while others, well, maybe it was time to create a few of our own for our new family of three.

In the days that followed that sobremesa conversation, I found that my mind wouldn’t let go of the idea of traditions. Where DO traditions start? What constitutes a tradition? And, is it incorrect, or at the very least contrived to decide to create your own, as I had originally argued? To help me process these questions, as well as my conversation with D., I hit the Internet to find what I could on the topic. (Oh, my gosh, I seriously don’t know what I’d do without Google!)

While there are tons of definitions and definitions within definitions, what most people seem to agree on is that:

A tradition is a belief or practice with special meaning that has origins in the past. It is passed on from one generation to the next for safekeeping. Its purpose is to provide a common or shared experience.

On the one hand, D. is right in saying that some traditions arise organically and are created by our repeated actions. Like Christmas spent with family: my mom making egg and sausage casserole for breakfast, playing endless hours of Settlers of Catan, and attending Christmas Eve church service. It’s just what we’ve always done.

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Or, that come rain or shine we strap E. into her stroller and hit the streets of our neighborhood for a paseo (walk) every evening after work. We don’t go to any store or spend any money. We just walk. And, talk. And, sometimes eat snacks.

A walk? Aren’t traditions meant to be centered around a serious or sacred or important activity?

You’re right. I wouldn’t call brushing my teeth before bed or doing the dishes after dinner traditions. Traditions have special meaning.

And, for a while, I thought that our daily paseos were “just something we did to kill time during the witching hour between dinner and bedtime.” But, the other day I stood corrected.

D. came home early from work one afternoon so we three could head to our local aquarium. Unfortunately, by the time he got home it had closed. So, he suggested we take a walk instead. Not really feeling the walk vibe, I responded, ¿Por qué no vais vosotros? Yo me quedo aquí a limpiar un poquito la cocina. (Why don’t you two go without me? I’m going to stay and clean up the kitchen.)

D.’s smile turned to a frown in half a second: Pero, hay que salir los tres. Es nuestra rutina juntos. (But, you have to come. It’s our thing together.)

It’s our thing.

Our tradition.


Our daily walks connect us as a family.

And, that, amig@s, is the heart of tradition: connection

bilingual bilingualism traditions espanolita

In my search to answer the questions of the origin and meaning behind traditions, I came across this blog that talks about the idea of connections. I love the idea of creating and caring for family traditions that connect you on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. I thought of our daily paseos, our breakfasts in three each morning, and praying over each meal.

Back to that sobremesa conversation with D., some of our most treasured traditions DO have an official, and sometimes, artificial, beginning. Because, besides connecting us, traditions also serve to define us, to mark our identity. I suppose that’s the spirit behind my initial question to D.: Isn’t it time we create our own family’s traditions?

So, I look forward to sharing with you all some of our Christmas, New Years, and Epiphany traditions birthed from that sobremesa one early December night.

What activities and events connect you and your family? What traditions define you? I’d love to hear from you!

In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

bilingual bilingualism christmas espanolita traditions

(*Sobremesa = literally “over the table;” a Spanish tradition in which, after a meal, you just sit back and talk, sometimes hours on end)

2 thoughts on “Sobremesa, Traditions, and a Merry Christmas

  1. Pingback: Roscón de Reyes – lessons from a Spanish pastry | Españolita...¡sobre la marcha!

  2. Pingback: Hola, I’m Españolita, and this is nuestra familia (Family Fridays) | Españolita...¡sobre la marcha!

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