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The Joy of Family Traditions

by Jennifer Trainer ThompsonCelestial Arts; $16.95

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Like many women, Jennifer Trainer Thompson had always been drawn to family traditions, but it was becoming a mother--to her biological son, and to her daughter, adopted from Guatemala--that led her to search for customs to incorporate into her family's life. When she was unable to find a suitable book, one that covered the history of holidays, traditions from around the world, modern takes on old customs, and creative ideas for traditions-in-the-making, she wrote her own. The Joy of Family Traditions: A Season-by-Season Companion to Celebrations, Holidays, and Special Occasions (Celestial Arts; $16.95) is that book.

Any adoptive parent will understand--and appreciate--the need for the blending of culture and customs that Thompson discusses. When my son, Aaron, was born, I thought my family was complete. For our first Christmas together, I bought coordinating stockings for the three of us. By the time we adopted our daughter, Natalie, that stocking pattern was no longer available. So, on the adoption trip, I bought Natalie a blue stocking depicting a winter scene. Although beautiful, her stocking was different, and I worried that she'd feel left out. Rather than "different," Natalie sees her stocking as "special."

Each of this book's four sections, one for each season, describes holidays and other special occasions from Russia, China, Thailand, Ireland, Germany, and India, among others. Thompson's ideas come from extensive historical research, conversations with friends, and her own family's practices. While its comprehensive coverage of family traditions, new and old, distinguishes it from other books on the topic, what resonates most with me is Thompson's respectful, inclusive definition of "family." The Joy of Family Traditions is perfect for today's diverse families, including ours.

Here's a sampling of the rich traditions you'll find in Thompson's book:

BIRTHDAYS: "Former Montessori teacher Gertrude Mueller Olson gives her children two envelopes on each birthday, one marked New Privilege and the other New Responsibility. Privileges might include a later bedtime, a larger allowance, or being able to watch PG-13 movies, while responsibilities could include setting the table or emptying the dishwasher."

MOTHER'S DAY: "[A] growing trend is to send cards to all the mothers we love, not just our own. In 1998, President Clinton's Mother's Day proclamation was amended to: ‘On Mother's Day, let us honor all mothers--biological or adoptive, foster or stepmother--whose unconditional love has strengthened us.' Send cards or notes to mothers you admire. The first time I became a mother, I received cards and calls from several female friends welcoming me into the sisterhood."

COMING OF AGE--"BIRTH" MITZVAH: "Chris Oliveri and her husband, Steve, adopted two children, a son from Ecuador and a daughter from Guatemala. When their son turned 13, the family traveled to Ecuador to see where he was born and experience his cultural heritage, and when their daughter turns 13, they will visit Guatemala. ‘Some people have bar mitzvahs--we visit birth countries,' Chris quipped."

Reviewed by Kay Marner, a mother by birth and adoption, who works at the public library in Ames, Iowa.

Reprinted with permission from The Joy of Family Traditions: A Season-by-Season Companion to Celebrations, Holidays, and Special Occasions. Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Trainer Thompson, Celestial Arts, Berkeley, California.

Author Q & A
AF: Why do you believe family traditions are important in this day and age?

Thompson: People are so busy; they don't have time to just "be." Traditions are a way to be "in the moment," and to celebrate life's amazing little pleasures.

AF: What special significance do traditions take on for families formed through adoption?

Thompson: Biological children share [your] heritage. With adoption, especially international adoption, there is the blessing and the challenge of incorporating another culture into your family, and traditions are a terrific way to do so. And for families that have both a biological and an adopted child, traditions are a wonderful way to "level the playing field." Both of my children are embraced by our family's traditions.

AF: Did adopting your daughter lead you to question or adapt any family traditions?

Thompson: She taught me never to make assumptions about traditions. For a few years, we made a big deal about her arrival day. [Now that] she's a kindergartener, I realize that she doesn't want to be different from her brother, who has only a birthday. So, we changed the name--now we celebrate when we completed our family.

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