Saturday, December 24, 2011

Traditions, Culture and the Land

Christmas Eve. A time of traditions. A time when cultural layers may dictate traditions. And the landscape influences the culture and the traditions. My family - siblings and our own children all have a variety of traditions and plenty of ideas about what the traditions should be! Many of those traditions are dictated by family ancestry, but the landscape also has an influence as well as the people that live on that landscape.

Living in Bellingham, in the heart of what many people consider the Pacific Northwest has influenced my family traditions. One tradition that we had for many years was the annual Christmas Tree hunt. This involves going out into the rural landscape seeking tree farms. We had calculated this was easier than going all out and getting a Forest Service permit and likely cheaper with higher probability of getting an appropriately shaped and sized tree. This was not a tradition that either Lisa or I brought from our childhoods. Both of us had grown up in eastern Washington. No tree farms there and evergreens were miles away. So this new tradition was initially very fun.

Another tradition that I find common in western Washington and predates American/European settlement is smoked salmon. We have, like those that lived for millennium before us on this landscape, become Salmon People. Smoked salmon is given as gifts, eaten as appetizers, and sought out from the best smokers. A bit extra good this year as Will had worked in the salmon industry this summer and gotten some of the "good stuff".

Lutefisk is another tradition for many traditionalists from northern Europe that brought the traditional dish with them. However, it is a tradition that has not transferred as well as the salmon.

The weather this time of year is far too variable for traditional sleigh rides or ice skating. Lisa and I have fond memories of sledding down our street after putting gifts under the tree. Alas white Christmases are not common in Bellingham. More likely to be gray and 40s like this year. However, I learned during our second winter in Bellingham that Bellingham can get very cold. We traveled to see family in eastern Washington. Very cold there, but turned out it was nearly as cold in Bellingham as frigid air poured out of the Fraser Valley. We returned to frozen pipes.

Whatever your year end traditions. Enjoy them. And think about how the land has shaped your traditions.


Dave Onkels said...

Your blog is always a pleasure to read. In some ways, it's unfortunate, isn't it, that there is so much vegetation on the west side that obscures the landscape?

Dan McShane said...

Thanks Dave. I always viewed the vegetation as part of the landscape. The obscuring of features by all our trees has been greatly overcome with the growing use of LiDAR and is why geologists in western Washington gather over beer and LiDAR sheets.