My Canadian buddy Bill of Duff’s Wines won the last monthly wine writing challenge and chose “Tradition” as his topic of choice. And since there’s some nudging going on here and on Twitter, and since my writing hiatus has become really ridiculous by now, I’ve decided to accept the challenge.
Part of my immediate uneasiness with tradition stems from the fact that I used to be a very traditional kinda guy, with a longing for stability that traditions help create, with literally thousands of books in my “library”, with a craving for arm chairs and for anything traditional, entailing everything this term evokes.
A marriage fallen apart later, with some lessons learned and others not, I developed a keen embrace for change, and a disdain for traditions. Maybe not for traditions, but for what they can encapsulate: An attempt by the past to bind us living. Don’t get me wrong, they can be a nice bridge into the past, connecting us and our forebears, and connecting us and other cultures. But they still require that you follow them, and following expectations is really not my strong suit (anymore, I want to add).
So I tried shedding traditions and bonds, wanting nothing to do with what loved ones held dear. Let me tell you this much: It’s a great way to make others around you and yourself miserable. We just cannot escape traditions, and maybe we shouldn’t. But I also don’t think we should succumb to everything that is held out as a tradition. Traditions need to fit to us, they need to be relevant to us, they shouldn’t only be a means for others to make us behave in accordance with their traditions.
A move across the Atlantic made me re-evaluate many traditions and what is considered “traditional” for a German living abroad. The beauty of being a transplant is that you get to choose the traditions you want to embrace, both from your own culture and from your adopted culture. Heck, it even gives you a chance to alter both of them, make them more compatible with yourself, and most will find it enriching. I experience being a foreigner in a foreign land as exhilarating, and it appears my input matters to those that matter to me.
So here are a few traditions that we’ve accepted, adapted, created, embraced, and incorporated into our life:
Thanksgiving: My hands down favorite tradition of American traditions. I don’t even like turkey very much, nor gravy or stuffing or pumpkin pie for that matter, but the idea of having a holiday, devoid of expectations for peace, tranquility, and unity, or the exchange of gifts, a holiday that solely revolves around spending time with people you love, eating comfort food. What’s not to love about this? We’ve added my German red cabbage recipe to the mix (GREAT combo, email me if you want the recipe), we’re now drinking Riesling with the turkey. We celebrate with friends, because our families are thousands of miles away. But when we spent Thanksgiving in Germany in November 2013, we celebrated with an all-German group of family. And it was a blast.
A big Korean dinner with Riesling when in Trier: For most of my wine-loving life, I was able to hang out with my good friend ManSoo and drink Riesling and eat his wife’s delicious Korean food on a very regular basis. Now, with an ocean between us, we make it a priority to meet for a long evening of Rieslings, reds, and food, a celebration of life and friendship, whenever we are home.
Feuerzangenbowle: Say it three times! A German mulled wine punch, over which a large sugar chunk is put, which is drenched in rum, and then lit on fire. As the spectacular flames sizzle along, the melting sugar drips into the mulled wine and “enriches” it in many ways. It’s a winter tradition in Germany, you watch the 1940s movie named after it, and drink it in the lecture halls of colleges…but I never embraced that tradition until coming to the US. Now, we try to throw at least on Feuerzangenbowle party every year.
Nina gets to open a 1987 for her birthday: While we lived in Germany, Nina used to throw big birthday parties at our large apartment, with us providing meat and cheese, and friends required to bring a wine they like. We’d have 15 to 25 people over, and it was always a feast. I asked Nina how it started that we opened an 87, and she gave me that look and said: “Um, because I wanted one.” And this fast became a tradition: Every year since, we have opened a 1987 Riesling from the Mosel, we are still drinking Spaetlese levels, and they still work fine. Every year I am concerned we need to move on to Auslese or higher, but the Spaetlesen are still kicking it, even from a bad year like 1987.
A beef burgundy dinner between Christmas and New Year’s: I like to claim that half of Alaska visited and stayed with us while we lived in Germany (the first visitors arrived literally the day we moved into our apartment). It was a great way of getting to know people from Nina’s parents’ church community, which has made me entering church at Christmas a feast of hugs and smiles. Which I like a lot. The first Christmas in Alaska, 2011, I offered to cook a meal for a full table of people, and my mother in law thought it would be great to invite those that visited us in Germany. At first, I thought it was odd that we would throw a dinner for people that visited us, shouldn’t they buy us dinner? But over the years, this has become a staple: I cook a beef burgundy for anywhere between 15 and 20 people (in case you’re wondering, that’s about 12 to 15 pounds of meat and 5-6 liters of wine), it’s one of the most joyous nights of our time there, and I don’t want to miss this tradition (this year we opened our first 3 liter bottle to drink with it).
In short, don’t discard traditions altogether, but choose and pick which matter, and create your own, because those will truly matter to you.