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5 Holiday Traditions I Kept After My Divorce

Photograph by Rachel Matos

In 2007, I was dealing with the ups and downs that come with divorce. To add to an already stressful situation, I was in a new city, without any family, and had a little boy to take care of. When the holidays rolled around, it was not an easy transition for me.

As much as I wanted to erase the past, I couldn't just abruptly remove the things that my son held so close to his heart. After all, I divorced his father — not an entire decade of my life and all the things I experienced and learned during my marriage. It was my life, too, and I had a choice in the way I perceived the past and how I wanted to move forward in this new chapter. Those holiday traditions became a part of who I was as well, and recreating them symbolically removed the "ownership" title from its origin and actually became a source of empowerment for me. It also gave me a different perspective into raising a bicultural child.

I didn't grow up with a lot of material things. My mother worked full time and attended graduate school during most of my childhood. My upbringing was very different from that of my son, and that of his father. My holidays were centered around familia, la iglesia, los hermanos y hermanas, pernil and my uncles telling jokes until the wee hours of the night. It was also a time that my mother worked very hard to create magical moments for me, such as the dollhouse she built from scratch and the collection of beautiful dolls she added to every year.

Although I grew up with a combination of American holiday culture and Latino tradition, it was nothing like the Pennsylvania Rockwellian-esque holidays that were later introduced to my life. My son is a part of both worlds, and it was important for me to show him that I see the value of those traditions as well. I incorporated them into the ones I was already passing down to him, and they have since taken on an entire new life.

Here are 5 holiday traditions I kept after my divorce — with a Latino twist!

  1. Stockings. I didn't grow up with the tradition of Christmas stockings. My childhood gifts were all beautifully wrapped, under the tree, no matter how big or small. I was in my 20s when I received my first real holiday stocking. It was filled with toiletries, candies and knick-knacks. Hey, nothing wrong with that, right? So why toss it? Every year, I fill a stocking for my son with little things he needs throughout the year … and Pez. Because it's not a Christmas stocking if it doesn't have Pez.
  2. The Christmas pickle.
    Photograph by Rachel Matos

    Another thing I never did, much less heard of, was the hunt for a green pickle in exchange for a gift. Basically, you buy a green pickle ornament and hide it in the tree before Christmas morning. Whoever finds it gets a special gift. I only have one son, so it's not a very long hunt and he always gets the gift. But he likes to search for it, and thinks it's cool that I passed this down to him. On lives the pickle!
  3. The Christmas morning breakfast. We have always celebrated Nochebuena because it's not the holidays without pernil, arroz con gandules and midnight Mass. The last thing I want to do is wake up early and make more food the next day. But I do it. Honestly, I've only been able to muster up enough energy to make pancakes. But we look forward to it every year. Even though they're the same pancakes I make all the time, on the 25th they're officially called "Mom's Christmas pancakes."

  4. Photograph by Rachel Matos

    The Snowman collection. My son's grandmother used to give him a snowman ornament every year. Some time after the divorce, that traditions ceased. I thought it was a fun idea, so I kept it going. It's something he can pass down to his kids (because they will want over 40 snowmen ornaments that abuela bought, right?).

  5. The Santas. My son's grandfather has a huge collection of Santa figures. I thought it would be a fun idea to start my son on a holiday collection as well but I wasn't exactly sure what to choose. Lighthouses? Snow globes? When he was about 5 years old, he became obsessed with a bear nutcracker that was gifted to me. That was it — nutcrackers. He now has about 11 or 12 of them. It's a tradition he definitely looks forward to, except that he doesn't get one on Christmas. Los Reyes Magos deliver one to him every year on January 6th and leave it by his bed.

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