Posts Tagged ‘ritual’

We FINALLY got the official dol party pictures back including a lovely little book of the best ones. Therefore, as part of my then/now project, I thought I would share one of Dragon at his dol party table in contrast to Mr. Lee’s dol party table 40 years ago.

dol table dragon

lee dol

Like so many things, there’s such a contrast between the home-prepared family party in Mr. Lee’s photograph and the uber commercialized/aggrandized contemporary party. I’ve been to several dols which have the traditional table laid out with the fruit and ddeok, but I’ve also seen a lot of fake fruit, or, in Dragon’s case, flower arrangements, candles, and knick knacks that obscure the traditional items (if any) from a clear view. (We did get a rather large box of fruit to take home though).

And I love that my boys have almost the exact same outfit on.

A precious set of photos.

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As I thought about what makes a Canadian birthday a birthday, I felt that other than the Happy Birthday song (also a feature of the Korean dol), the birthday cake is probably the most iconic element. There’s a cake at the Korean dol too, but in an uncanny valley way that mirrors the gap between Canadian and Korean wedding cakes.

At our venue, we blew out a candle on a real cake, but at the dol for Dragon’s friend the next day, and at several other dols I’ve been to, the cake on display is just a styrofoam show cake. Then, you cut a real cake (with an enormous sword-esq weapon), but that cake is whisked away and given to you as you are leaving the building. In other words, nobody at the party actually eats the party cake, but if they did, it would be a Korean bakery cake which has a distinctly different taste and texture from a Canadian cake. Therefore, I felt really strongly that I wanted Dragon to have a real cake that not only represented him (as opposed to a generic cake picked by the venue) but that we were able to share with the rest of our guests.

You see, dol parties often include take home presents for guests. Canadian parties would have a bag of goodies for the kids, but at the Korean party, it’s a gift for adults. When I started going to dol parties in 2007, everyone used to give out rainbow coloured ddeok (chewy rice cake). However, at some point the custom seemed to change overnight, and suddenly I began receiving miniature picture frames, tea towels, a variety of trinkets, and one time, rice (probably the best gift). Of course, it is always nice to take something home with you, but most of the time we’ve felt the same way about these presents as people feel about a lot of Canadian wedding favours…they are okay, but they often just take up space and rarely have much relevance to the event other than the name and date emblazoned on the item in some place. Thus, we decided that the cake could be both a way to honour the Canadian custom and gift our guests.

I asked my friend, who has a bakery business on the side, to make us two cakes. The first was an apple spice with cream cheese frosting. Sadly, Dragon didn’t get to eat any of this cake because he is allergic to cinnamon, but I heard it was divine. Dragon’s cake was chocolate with vanilla frosting and…and…yes it did. It had a dragon on it. Super duper cake, and the staff member assigned to our room kept squealing over it.
cake 1

cake 2 better

And yes, I really really really wanted Dragon to get to feed himself his own cake. I was slightly worried that this custom would create an uproar as the next worst thing to being COLD in Korea is being dirty. Baby-led weaning is not so popular here, and it’s custom to spoon feed food into baby’s mouths with one hand and use a wipe on the mouth with the other in one harmonious action for every mouthful of food to prevent any spillage or smearing. However, sitting in his high chair in a roomful of well-fed people, Dragon’s first taste of icing and cake went unnoticed by everyone but the table of expat mamas + 1 K-husband he was sitting at. He enjoyed the cake immensely. (Note the outfit…I didn’t want him getting chocolate on his ‘I’m the Birthday Boy’ onesie before the big day!)

eating cake

The other gift which is given at dol parties is the door prize. In addition to gifting the person who correctly predicts what the baby with choose from among the fortune telling items, there’s usually prizes given to the guest who knows the birth weight or how many teeth the baby currently has. There’s also often a prize for the person who came from furthest away, and although I’m usually from only a few subway stops away, I ALWAYS get this prize because everyone thinks it’s funny to give it to me being the sole foreigner in the crowd on most days. My all time favourite was one of those multi-packs of tissue boxes which was both bewildering and annoying to carry home on the subway. I’ve also received a mini cutting board, a couple of tea towels in addition to the take home tea towels, a single box of tissues, and some tasteless tea.

But then Mr. Lee came up with the idea of asking my mum to bring some treats from Canada. She brought 6 mugs that said ‘Canada’ on them and featured a moose, and then we filled them with flavoured hot chocolate, Laura Secord chocolate, shortbread (the Scottish side of me), maple syrup produced down the road from my childhood home by a family I’ve known my entire life, and…it may seem strange, but a ladybug chocolate which comes from a store in my hometown and reminds me of home.





I hope they were enjoyed by those who won them. If not, they can always re-gift them to me!!!

And finally, although most people give cash presents for a dol, Dragon also received three miniature gold rings which are the traditional presents. These rings are so impractical but eternally adorable. It’s something I’ll really treasure when he is an adult, and I’m able to look back and see the tiny rings that once fit on his fingers up against his grown up hands.


And then there was this ring we got today. Pororo does 1st birthday gold ring. Love Love Love.

ring p

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There are lots of different ways multicultural families deal with diversity during milestones. Personally, I believe that our son is Canadian and Korean, and I feel very strongly that both of those elements of his identity need to be honoured throughout his life. However, I think there’s a longer and stronger tradition of incoporating other cultures into Canadian culture than there is bringing Canadian elements into Korean culture, and I think there are fewer models for those of us trying to do so in Korea. Therefore, when we started thinking about planning Dragon’s dol, I decided that I wanted his party to have Canadian elements and that I wanted the party to represent our family (which is maybe a Canadian idea in and of itself).

The first area where I thought we could make such changes within the structure of the Korean dol party was with the fortune telling event. This is probably the most iconic part of the contemporary dol and a part that I really love. In this ritual, a number of items are placed before the baby, and the item the child picks is said to indicate his or her future. The items change depending on the venue and the parents, but they often include a combination of the following:

Money – (Wealth)

Thread – (Long life)

Rice – (Lots of food)

Calligraphy brush (traditional)/pencil (modern) – (Scholar)

Archery bow (traditional) /golf ball (modern) – (Sports star)

Stethoscope – (Doctor)

Gavel – (Lawyer/Judge)

Microphone – (Celebrity)

I figured it would be pretty easy to either put a slight twist on the traditional items or include some additional ones that reflected our own family. So we chose:

Concert bands from Mr. Lee’s favourite festivals (musician)

concert band

Cow (veternarian – because my sister is in vet school, and we are an animal loving family)


Hockey puck – (hockey player – the team my family supports, and we received this toy puck on our family trip to Boston in the summer)

hockey puck

Money – (Wealth – Canadian $10 bill + Korean 10,000 won)


Pens (Scholar – we had planned to put pens from our undergraduate alma maters and my current place of employment together, but we couldn’t get a pen from Mr. Lee’s school, so 2 out of 3).


Rope – (Long life – from our traditional wedding altar…the dol party rope is usually white)


When guests arrive at a dol, they are given a ticket and asked to choose which item they think the baby will choose. If the baby chooses the item you predicted, you are entered in a contest to win a prize.

I’m sure it’s the first time the venue ever had to print off this label.


And then there was this. ㅋㅋㅋ


Our emcee explained to the guests why we chose each item, and I think this change to the ritual was well received.

So what did Dragon pick?…..

Our son is going to be a wealthy man! Or…maybe as Mr. Lee mused…chosing the money means that he is going to use up all of our money! ㅋㅋㅋ

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[UPDATE: I just found this picture, accidentally taken on my phone on Saturday. Sums up the day pretty well :)]


Can you say…insane? It really was. Insane in the most exhausting and chaotic way while still being something I’m glad we did.

If I found the picture taking at the Korean wedding gruelling, taking pictures with a baby was a hundred times more complicated trying to keep hats and shoes on and making sure he didn’t crawl away, and holding a 10.5 kilo kid in slippery clothes while trying not to burst out of my own corseted dress for an hour because he decided he would not go to his dad while being photographed…And of course, the easy thing to do would be to say ‘Pictures are at 10:30 am, please meet us at this place to do them.’ But no no no. Nobody knew when they were going to be and nobody cared…until the door of the hair stylist burst open and there were people there saying ‘It’s picture time!! Picture time!!! Get your clothes on now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ And then we had to scramble going up and down elevators because nothing was on the same floor, and chiffon was flying and shoes were lost and my mum, who had come down with a horrific stomach bug at midnight, kept having to run off to the bathroom in between the chaos.

The main characteristic of the many dols I’ve been to has been a very excitable emcee and loud blaring music (often inappropriate…really…I’ve been to so many dol parties that blasted music with the words ‘whoring’ and ‘bitches’ and one of the example baby video we could have chosen used the music…I’m so serious about this…’I like big butts.’) So I won a few of the battles in how I wanted the dol to be, but I didn’t win the war on sound. It was loud, and rambunctious, and over the top….but the Koreans seemed to love our emcee (a former comedian turned Mr. Lee’s coworker), and the play list ranged from my hard fought Lumineer’s song for our entrance to Gangnam Style (Dragon’s favourite song), to some swing which was a nice classy touch in the midst of chaos.

It sounds crazy (it was), it sounds difficult (it was), it sounds tiring (omw it so was), but seriously, it was fun and funny and delightful in the way that maybe parenting is both overwhelming and rewarding.

Pictures to come…

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First birthday parties are really really really important in Korea. They are important in Canada too, but whereas the typical Canadian party is an individually planned house party with close family and friends, the Korean event is a mini wedding (actually, they often happen in buildings which also include wedding ceremonies, and many wedding clothing rental shops have a birthday business on the side). The contemporary party (doljanchi or dol for short), is typically a large event held in a special hall or increasingly, a restaurant which specializes in such events. There are fancy dresses or hanboks, a professional photographer, a professional movie about the baby, a professional emcee, take home gifts, etc etc. Yes, it’s really a mini wedding.

We chose to celebrate Dragon’s first birthday here in Korea because the dol is so much more of an event here, and also because the timing meant that if we were to go to Canada, Mr. Lee would have to miss his son’s party. So instead, we flew my mum over for the party, and my sister, who was traveling in Russia just prior, came for a visit before she had to return to her studies.

I do dislike the cookie cutter aspects of the Korean dol, but in general, I like it. It’s a bit over the top…but, well, let’s be honest. Parents are usually really over the top about their kids, so it works. And things that make me cringe in Korean wedding hall weddings seem much more endearing when translated into the doljanchi.

So over the next few posts, I will discuss how we tried to make Dragon’s dol a little more our own and tell you how it all went!

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Just a few pictures to show you how we celebrated our first Christmas as a family of 3!

Preparing for the big day


25 advent


Christmas cookies for daycare teachers


25 cookies 2

25 cookies

Dragon enjoying and wearing his Christmas presents

25 christmas outfit

blog presents

blog dragon

A selection of the many stocking stuffers sent from abroad

25 irn bru

25 chocolates

25 pp

Including some Father-Son matching shirts

25 guns

We went for lunch at the inlaws (mandu guksu, bulgogi, and tiramisu)


And ended the night with dinner at the Hilton with our friend (no cooking for me today!!!)

hilton collage

Merry Christmas to all

xo msleetobe + fam

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This is a little late, but April 23rd was our second wedding anniversary and Dragon’s 3rd month birthday. We celebrated on the day of with an ice cream cake. Three little candles for D and two big candles for us.

On the Friday, we celebrated by going to our anniversary restaurant (Chaegundaam) for lunch as D gets a wee bit cranky at night. You can read more about the restaurant in my blog post from last year. It’s crazy to think that last year at this time, Dragon didn’t even exist, and next year he will be toddling all over the restaurant.

This year didn’t disappoint either. We have a White Day and my birthday Korean-vegetarian restaurants that we go to every year, but this one really is a cut above the rest. I should note that this is not a vegetarian-only restaurant, but they do have a set menu that is vegetarian (2 people have to order it though).

And now without further ado…the food!

The appetizers

The main meal


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On 100 days

Dragon hit his first Korean milestone – he was 100 days yesterday…which happened to be May 1st…and it happened to be the very first year Mr. Lee got May 1st off! So we had a little celebration.

It seems, at least in Seoul, that 100 days isn’t cause for a big party anymore. Traditionally, this milestone marked the time when mother and child could go out of the house for the first time, and this, as well as the fact that the baby had managed to survive this long, was a cause for celebration. These days, it seems like people are more likely to have a small family dinner or visit close relatives instead, and that’s what we did.

First, we went to the PILs where we also met SIL and her husband for lunch.The little Mr. loved being the centre of attention.

Dragon got his first bling – the traditional baby sized gold ring – and a couple of designer outfits he’ll grow into shortly.

Then we went off to our uncle’s house where great grandma and great grandpa live. We ate red bean rice cake which symbolizes protecting the baby from harm (evil?) and white rice cake which is traditional for 100 days. I also made chocolate zucchini cake…because I think every birthday requires chocolate cake.

And then, when we got home we tried to take some pictures, but after a full day of playing and no sleep, Dragon was in no mood to be photographed.

Anyway, happy 100 days dear Dragon. I can’t wait for your big one year bash!

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On Christmas 2011

A quick post on our Christmas weekend as a follow up to this post.

It started out with a visit to the PIL. As I said in the previous post, pre-me they never celebrated Christmas except for going to a pretty uneventful Mass, but now they get presents and a visit, so they’ll go with it. Being just after Dongji or solstice, we ate patjuk or red bean porriage…which is interesting because we’ve never marked the solstice with the inlaws in any way before. And then after that it was time for the much beloved Korean Christmas cake…always an ice cream cake in this family. This year I thought the Baskin Robbins options were abysmal…it’s like they put too many resources into developing the Halloween cakes and then had nothing left over for Christmas…so we had the monkey/lion pirate ship cake. Not the most delicious of the cakes I’ve ever had there, but the style…come on…blue ice cream waves? Points for that.

The other reason we went to see the inlaws was to pick up all the boxes of baby stuff we’ve had delivered to their place over the last 2 months. We barely got everything in the car, and then when we got home, it was time for Mr. Lee to figure out how everything went together…training I think for a parent’s role after Santa comes in the next many years….

After sitting on the couch for 2 hours watching the fun, I left to attend Vespers.

And when I got home, I managed to manipulate Mr. Lee into watching a movie…okay it was The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe…not a Msleetobe family traditional holiday movie…but it does have Santa in it, so that was something.

Christmas morning we woke up and ate some tasty pastries before Skyping with my mama and sister. We opened presents, gossiped, made stupid faces at each other, tried to get the cats on camera…the usual.

And then I had some of my from-Canada hot chocolate and mini marshmellows that mama had sent.

As for the cats, the little one spent almost the entire Christmas day in his blanket nest trying to maximize the ondol experience.

Sometimes he got up the energy to glare at us as we took photos of him, but mostly he just wanted to be warm, cozy, and undisturbed.

The older cat took a rather strong liking to the Peg Perego stroller box and spent almost the entire day sitting in darkness and claiming the box as her territory.

She only emerged to get some Christmas treats and yell at Mr. Lee for disturbing her cave dwelling.

We ended the weekend at the Grand Hilton for dinner. Poor Mr. Lee called 20 hotels before we were able to get a reservation. We left making plans far too late this year – especially for a year when both Christmas Eve and Day fell on a weekend. But finally he was sucessful, and we managed to get a spot for ourselves and his best friend.

The lights and decorations were not as delightful as the Millenium Hilton’s, but the Grand Hilton was slightly less chaotic as well.

We went to the buffet, and while it was not your standard Canadian Christmas meal, it was nice. They even had Christmas pudding…which I despise…but they had it! Here’s my first course…

And Mr. Lee’s…

All in all, a busy yet low key weekend, and a lovely time to share with hubs. Next year….Christmas will be a wee bit different…. Merry Christmas my dears.

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Last week on Feminist Mormon Housewives’ Ask Mormon Girl column, there was a question that really resonated with me. A reader asked how she could get her convert fiancé, who had never celebrated Christmas – let alone her family’s all embracing Christmas celebrations – to integrate into a family that does “matching pajamas and rhyming, multi-stage treasure hunts and nativity re-enactments and Danish aebleskivers from my great-grandmother’s recipe and grandkids bolting to bed after sighting Rudolph’s nose in the sky and a laundry list of other traditions.” At the same time, from a discussion on a wives forum I am on, I realized that I am not the only Western wife who has radically different ideas about holidays and celebrations than her Korean husband.

I’ve seen big changes over the last seven Chirstmases in Seoul. However, Christmas is above all a dating holiday when couples go to special Christmas concerts, eat ‘Western’ food, and/or go to heavily packed areas like Myeongdong en masse with other dating couples. When I first got here, it was very difficult and highly unusual to find home decorations – because nobody decorated. And if they did, it was just a small tree not the every room + massive outdoor light displays that happen back in Canada. Above all, Christmas is a public friend/couple holiday lasting about two days with a longer Starbucks/Baskin Robbins/Dunkin Donut build up in Korea. Holiday concerts seem to be increasing at nursery schools and Kindergartens if my friends-with-kids’ Facebook status updates are to be believed, but only in the same way that hogwan competition seems to be driving the Halloween party fad among the 2-6 age group. But Christmas is pretty much an outside holiday. It’s something you participate in with the one you love or the kids at school, but it has very little family meaning. And until I came along, my in-laws had never imagined they would do anything remotely Christmas-related at home.

And speaking of family, of course, as you grow older and start your own family, you realize that what you think of as ‘traditions’ are often your own family traditions and not necessarily the traditions of the wider community around you. The Msleetobe family has a lot of traditions. There are certain movies that have to be watched – The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, White Christmas, the 1960’s Rudolph claymation, and now Elf for example (although if you can throw in a few more, that would be best). The times these movies will be shown are carefully noted and schedules may be rearranged in order that everyone can be in their pjs in the family room, each with a bowl of popcorn, so the watching (and singing) can begin on time. When my father was alive, there were always surprise nightly detours on the way home to neighbourhoods never before known so that we could see the outdoor lights of people we had never met as well as trips to well known Christmas display hot spots. There were Christmas baking extravaganzas and cookie exchanges when I was younger, the Christmas concerts my friend L and I used to put on for our families during our elementary school days, and those many many trips to the mall (or malls) to see Santa. There was the White Gift Service, the church Christmas concert, the Toys for Tots and Canadian Tire money drives at school, special breakfast on Christmas morning, Christmas Eve candlelight service, Avon products in our stockings and yearly tool contribution to our individual tool boxes (cause Dad believed in girls using and owning tools yo), and of course, the yearly Christmas gathering traditions with family, friends, neighbours, and social groups. Christmas was a big freaking deal for me growing up – and very little of that big freaking deal had to do with commercialization and presents. Most of it – at least the things that stick out years later – were the memories, the family traditions, and the magical atmosphere. I fully recognize that not everyone in Canada has these experiences or had them growing up, but I do believe that Christmas was and is a magical time for many people far apart from the commercialization.

But why talk about this here? Because my husband did not grow up in this cultural or family environment. And it’s not just Christmas. It’s pretty much all holidays. His family has a low key Chuseok/Seollal which I think is pretty commonplace in Seoul these days. We celebrate his parents’ birthdays. We take some flowers (the standard ones everyone is supposed to take) on Parents’ Day and eat together, and usually we get together with the in-laws for Mr. Lee’s birthday – but not with any of his other siblings. Each occasion is pretty standard – eat a meal or go out to a galbi restaurant, give money or a standard Korean gift set easily purchased out of the gift section of any department store, and … that’s pretty much it. Now, I recognize that this is partly Mr. Lee’s family dynamics and that other families might be more or less traditional, more or less festive, and be more or less creative.. And I also recognize that my family – which has always celebrated major and minor holidays with a flair (I still get St. Patrick’s Day and Ground Hog Day cards from my mum not to mention Valentine’s Day candy and chocolate) is not necessarily the norm, but there does seem to be a cultural difference in addition to a family/individual difference between how people celebrate special events in Korea and Canada.

I had never really thought about this difference until women in my online group started comparing how our Korean husbands understand and celebrate personal milestones and public holidays. A common thread was that most husbands (living in Korea … some living abroad after living in Korea for most of their lives) did not feel the need to mark anniversaries. Birthdays were sort of celebrated…sometimes. But the biggest complaint was Christmas – including the fact that many raised-in-Korea-men did not feel that family Christmas celebrations were attendance-mandatory when living or visiting abroad – or that even spending time as a family was necessary. To your average Western wife…I would say that’s a major gulf.

In some ways I wonder if part of the problem is that because Christmas is kind of celebrated in Korea. I wrote about this earlier in the year in a post about critical thinking. My students were asked to read an article about Canadian Christmas traditions and then brainstorm the differences with Korean Christmas traditions. However, despite their excellent reading comprehension and very detailed information meant to get students thinking about the differences, many students failed to notice any of the differences. They said ‘we have a Santa and A reindeer and we have Christmas trees…in department stores’ without noticing that the article talked about an in-depth Santa myth that is not present in Korea or a multitude of differences in who the time was celebrated with, and where, and what people ate etc. The idea (widespread across all of my classes) was that Koreans had Christmas, and Canadians had Christmas….so they must be the same right? Of course, anyone who has spent a family Christmas in Canada and a date night on the town in central Seoul knows that what constitutes Christmas in each country is very different not necessarily in symbols but rather in meaning, tradition, and atmosphere.

Of course, when you are a single expat in need of others to hang out with during the holiday or a person involved in the dating scene, this distinction doesn’t matter as much. However, when you get married and start wanting to continue your past traditions or start new ones – or especially when you have children and suddenly realize that the traditions you never gave much thought to are important, there can be a disconnect if your partner considers Christmas to be a night to drink with friends or something only young 20-somethings do.

I feel happy in that I started pushing for a more home-centred Christmas long before we got married so that by the time we got to this stage in our lives, there was less controversy. Christmas Eve is a night for church. The end. Christmas Day is a day to spend with family (blood, marriage, or urban). These have long been my two demands and slowly Mr. Lee has started to see how these two days of Christmas celebrations can be helpful in building traditions. Of course, I have to give something too. Mr. Lee just does not understand the Christmas movie thing (and neither it seems does Korean tv which ran ‘Christmas specials’ such as Cars, Bridget Jones Diary: The Edge of Reason, Toy Story etc as their ‘festive movies’). I think I will always watch Elf and sing to The Muppet’s Christmas Carol while he watches Swedish rock videos in his home office. He is also never going to be okay with me blasting Christmas carols in the house from the end of November – but I can listen on my ipod on the way to work. And he is never going to fill a stocking for me…and after years of trying to do stockings for him, I’ve realized that the stocking tradition really does not work unless it’s reciprocal.

At the same time, there are traditions I cannot give up, and I especially want my son to grow up with. I did a big 10.5 hr Christmas cookie extravaganza this year and shared the dozens of cookies with my neighbours and coworkers. I’ve started insisting that we see his parents during Christmas and bring them a gift. They of course are totally thrilled to be getting a gift, and although we’re eating pat juk or bibimbap and not a traditional Canadian Christmas dinner, I think it’s a good tradition for both me and the family. In addition, we’ve had two years now of Skyping present opening with my mum and sis – not the same as the real thing, but for those times when we are not together during the holidays, I’m happy to embrace technology so that we can hang out together during Christmas. And certainly when Dragon is old enough to form his own memories of Christmas, we will stop doing Christmas dinner at a hotel and start making a meal at home, wrapping presents properly, and putting them under a tree (I would have a big tree now, but the cats would climb it…I’m hoping that my Olympiad cat will have lost some of his prowess by the time Dragon can remember a tree so that we can have a proper one), And last but not least, of course we will always have Korean Christmas cake which thank God is so far superior in taste and style than what most native English speakers think about when they hear ‘Christmas cake).

When we were a bit earlier on in our relationship, I used to really struggle with how non-tradition oriented Mr. Lee was during major events and holidays. Did he not care about me? Did he not care about memories? At that point I tried to start making a point out of celebrating more. If he didn’t want to go out for his birthday with his friends – because none of his friends ever did friend things for their birthdays – that was fine. But I was going to do something to make his birthday special. And now several years later, I do think he looks forward to having a ‘Mr. Lee Day’ even though he did not grow up with that kind of experience. And now, slowly over the years, I think I’ve been able to show him another way of celebrating, and where we are now is somewhere sort of in the middle where I realize that I can’t have everything my way and he recognizes that he married someone from a different family and culture who is going to celebrate a little (lot) differently. I’ve also come to realize that what I thought of as ‘traditions’ did at one time have an origin in our family, and that they only became tradition between my parents, or our church, or school, or my dance teacher, or someone decided to make them a tradition. And thus, if I want my child to grow up with Christmas traditions, then it is really my responsibility – not the culture I am in – or the family I married into – or the people who surround me – but my responsibility to make these memories for this child.

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