By Mari Hernandez-Tuten
"Never think of moving abroad as a deprivation of any sort. It is the greatest gift you can give your child." ~ Cecilia Haynes
As ex-patriots, one of our hopes is that our kids become global citizens of the world by helping them discover culture, language, world perspective and a sense of humor as one deals with all of our culture and linguistic confusions.
With this lofty desire come challenges, too. How do I help my children understand their native culture and heritage? How do I help them embrace or reconcile the differences with their adopted land? How do I help them develop a sense of adventure and accept their new culture without pushing them into it?
It is a search for balance, to say the least.
Add to this dilemma, my family reality, which is a multi-cultural blessing to begin with. As a Southern man and a Mexican woman raising three kids in Ecuador, the holidays (all of them!) can be overwhelming and push me to pine for that simpler past.
But the day I stopped mourning the life I had left behind was the day that we, as a family were able to enjoy all this country had to offer. I vividly recall my son asking me shortly after arriving to Ecuador, “Mommy, when can we go home?” I held back the tears and with a smile said, “This is now home.”
In our multicultural home we accept that our traditions may not always translate well in our country. We quickly realized this when we tried to explain to some of our Ecuadorean friends why we hide eggs and have the Easter bunny. And we take an open-minded, discovery approach to the cultural traditions of our host country and figure out how to incorporate those into our family activities.
With this approach, here is how we integrate Easter week traditions in our home.
Though we have embraced the people and culture of this country, holidays can still be hard on us because, in part, we recall the sweet and yummy traditions from back home that we cannot always recreate in our host country.
We do what all good Southern families do for Easter and any other holiday: potluck! Everyone contributes to the meal bringing casseroles, ham, or delicious desserts. Here in Ecuador, our potlucks now take on a local flavor with the addition of fanesca.
Fanesca is an Ecuadorean soup, as heavy in religious symbolism as it is in local ingredients. Though recipes vary, fanesca traditionally has 12 grains (or sometimes just 12 main ingredients), which are said to represent the 12 apostles of Jesus or the 12 tribes of Israel. Because fanesca is eaten during Lent, meat is not part of the dish, but fish (traditionally cod) is included to represent Christ.
As Christians, this dish is very meaningful, but the religious symbolism has a very close parallel to another tradition we celebrate in Mexico.
Capirotada, a baked pastry that can be both a breakfast food and a dessert, represents the crucifixion of Christ. The bread represents the body of Christ and the syrup his blood, with the cinnamon sticks thought to be the cross. The raisins become the nails of the cross and the melted cheese represents the Holy Shroud.
In our home we add one more culinary tradition to the Easter week: resurrection rolls, to honor the belief the Jesus was resurrected after his crucifixion. This tradition began in the U.S.
The pastries are simple yeast rolls with some key, symbolic ingredients. The marshmallow filling represents Christ’s body while the spices and butter symbolize that which was used to anoint it. The oven becomes a natural tomb and once the roll is baked, the melted marshmallow represents his resurrection.
These symbolic dishes also give way to lighter, non-culinary traditions we celebrate in our home in Quito.
Easter for our family would never be complete without that Easter egg hunt. We boil, dye and hide eggs and though we give it little thought, the symbolism of the egg is powerful. The Holiday Spot website (www.holidayspot.com) says, “In Christian times, the egg was a symbol of new life just as a chick might hatch from the egg. Eggs were viewed as symbols of new life and fertility through the ages.” Eggs were often used during spring festivals in Ancient Egypt, Persia, and Rome.
Cascarones, confetti-filled egg shells, are a Mexican tradition similar to our U.S. Easter eggs. Serving as sort of a mini-Easter egg piñata, the egg shells are broken above the heads of friends and family, while simultaneously making a wish. According to tradition, a confetti shower brings good luck to both the one who breaks the shell and the one upon whom it is broken.
Though both of these have more to do with folklore than religion they offer an appropriate transition to faith-based activities that we observe in Ecuador.
Expressions of faith vary tremendously among the three cultures in our household, but we find commonalities with the rich celebrations in Quito, particularly the procession of Almighty Jesus.
We first took our eight year-old son to witness this parade a couple of years ago. He was fascinated and asked questions that easily allowed us to explain the meaning and symbolism of the event, particularly the cross bearers and the cone-headed, purple-clad Cucuruchos. The cones and the color purple are signs of penitence. It is an odd spectacle, but one that creates a bridge for understanding.
The parade is a strong expression of the Catholic faith in Quito. Hundreds of thousands of people line the streets of old town in a display that captures the attention of everyone, particularly young children, and it connects us with our own traditions.
As Christians living in a foreign land it instills a strong sense of self and ethnic pride they we will take with us no matter where we call home.
Mari Tuten is a freelance writer and founder of www.Inspiredbyfamilymag.com