Family traditions mean different things to people. Traditions can be events, projects, crafts, stories or just a certain dish on a special holiday. Family traditions are important in building stronger relationships among family members of different generations. But, keeping family traditions when far away from family or as a single mom can become a burden.
When parents split, children are faced with two homes that often do things differently. Holidays and events are shared or alternated giving little opportunity to maintain consistent family traditions. I remember making a Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesdays in years my son was at his father’s for the holiday. It was my way to spend quality time with him and let him enjoy the recipes of my childhood.
A Different Mardi Gras Tradition
Mardi Gras isn’t celebrated the same in Hawaii as it is elsewhere. In Hawaii, Fat Tuesday is known as Malasadas Day. The malasada is a Portuguese doughnut, heavy on yeast and eggs, deep fried and coated with sugar. Modern twists to this recipe have cinnamon-sugar coatings as well as custard, chocolate and coconut fillings.
As a child, Malasadas Day was a day of excitement and pride for me. Growing up in a Portuguese family in Hawaii meant this was a day where we really got to share our culture and aloha spirit. Grandma would start the dough the night before, wake to pound it in the middle of the night and start cooking the malasadas around 5:30 am. Living just a few minutes away, my brother and I were able to get up early before school and help.
The job of the malasada sugar-coater was important. You needed to toss them in the sugar without crushing them. The reward: first taste of the delicious treat, still hot from the oil. The thought of the hot, soft dough mixed with a little crunch of the sweet sugar still makes my mouth water.
Growing Up and Moving Away
It is more and more common for children to grow up, go off to school and move away from their hometown. This was true for me and many of my friends growing up. Hawaii is a small state with limited resources and jobs. Many of us could simply do better leaving the state. It isn’t easy to make a weekend trip back to the islands; a flight is approximately five hours and costly.
This means traditions risk dying. I was living in California with a roommate from Hawaii the first time I tried making Grandma’s malasadas recipe. It’s a chore and leaves a mess or dough and sugar in kitchen crevices you didn’t realize you got close to. Up before work to make a few dozen to share with co-workers and friends became my tradition.
As Family Traditions Slowly Fade
Family traditions such as Malasadas Day can fade away as those who are the architects stop doing them. Over time, my grandmother got older, the family and friends who would normally share the doughnuts weren’t around and she stopped making them. I was glad I had started. It’s a thread to my childhood as well as a link to our family heritage. I’m the 4th generation of my family to be born in the islands. In the world of DNA testing to determine your origins, I feel blessed to have a very clear picture of my family history dating back to the late 1400s in Portugal.
New Family Traditions
Getting married and having my son in California offered the opportunity to start many new traditions, some blended traditions between two backgrounds and some just new ways of doing things. Putting your mark on your own family traditions is important, too, especially if you are far away from the original rituals.
It was always important for me to make sure my son understood our heritage. We’ve visited the Hawaii’s Plantation Village, doing almost a Where’s Waldo trying to find the picture of my Grandfather on the walls talking about the plantation’s labor rise. We toured the homes that show how the different immigrants and plantation workers lived: the Filipino homes set differently than the Portuguese and Japanese. It shows the diverse culture that has become the cornerstone for Hawaii’s diversity.
Making Malasadas on Fat Tuesday
When he was in elementary school in California, my Malasadas Day tradition grew. They had Mardi Gras parties at school; it was a natural way for me to help him share his own history and tradition, rooted in a Portuguese plantation family in the islands. Even my own family laughs and says that I’m crazy for doing this every year. The amount of time I’ll spend in the kitchen the night before and early in the morning to make the doughnuts is akin to preparing for Thanksgiving dinner.
Then I remember, my glee as a child running into my grandparents’ home before the crack of dawn to get my place by the sugar pan. There are fewer memories that give me as much joy as Malasadas Day. In fact, mastering the many recipes of my family has been my passion for the past five or six years. Now that we are back in the islands, I get Grandma’s taste of approval to know I’ve done it right.
Why Take On Extra Work to Keep Family Traditions
Here in Hawaii, you can buy Malasadas easily. I happen to share the name with the bakery known world-wide for it, Leonard’s Bakery (no relation). It isn’t the same as making them. I’ll likely have no help from my teenage son but he’ll enjoy the rewards. Mom and Grandma will as well. It will give everyone in the family reason to talk, reminisce and bond.
That is the true reason we take the time and do the work to keep family traditions. I don’t know where the tradition goes in the next generation. It’s not for me to force the tradition into the next chapter of our family history. But I do feel it is my role to facilitate keeping the traditions that I loved as a child and my family worked so hard to keep and share.
Finding Your Own Traditions
Malasadas Day is a big day around here. Family traditions don’t have to revolve around holidays or big events. Reading to your child at bedtime is a tradition they will remember and value. My son and I used to go from the book to an adlib story about one of his stuffed animals. It was silly and fun, sparked creativity and is remembered to this day, long after he has outgrown his “stuffy days.”
Sundays at the beach or a local park with friends are simple traditions that provide security and consistency for kids. I think they also provide some security and consistency for us parents. As a single mom, there have been a lot of different things that uprooted normal big holiday traditions. It’s hard when you alternate holidays. It’s always been the little things that help ground me as a mom, feeling like I’m providing my son the same level of lifestyle blessings I felt as a child.
That is the reason I spend the time and overcome the burden of keeping family traditions.
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