Growing up in a dysfunctional family, my mother was basically raised by Sister Mary Joseph and Sister Mary Helen, her school teachers in Canada, so mom’s fashion choices ran in the direction of functional and utilitarian. She was absolutely no help when I entered my teenage years and was desperately in need of guidance about eye liner and ways to style thick curly hair. In the midst of that sensitive developmental age, during the early 1980’s, Seventeen magazine became my bible.
At that time, Whitney Houston and Phoebe Cates were the stars of the magazine. Tall and impossibly beautiful, I idolized them and memorized every article. I tried to replicate their haircuts and buy their dresses. I stacked each issue neatly in my closet for years, until they were finally recycled two decades later. (They sell for $25-$100 on eBay right now.)
In one memorable article, Phoebe Cates said that she were planning on eating Chinese food on Christmas afternoon in a glamorous New York City apartment that she shared with her sister. The article came with an adorable picture of herself with chop sticks and a paper container. I wanted to be Phoebe Cates so badly and have her alternative Chinese food Christmas, instead of our Italian-American holiday with fish and little honey balls. I’m sure that Phoebe wasn’t surrounded by old people with hands that smelled like garlic and anchovies.
Fast forward thirty years, and I’m charge of maintaining these family traditions. I never had that glamorous Christmas Day with lip gloss, a pink robe, and a carton of Lo Mein. Instead, I’m hosting three generations in our suburban split level and making the same fish and honey balls as my mom, her mom, and centuries of Italian grannies. I’ve slowly accepted that traditions might be boring, but we need them more than ever.