Wheatgrass Family Christmas: Planting the Seeds of Holiday Tradition

When I was asked to write this blog post about my holiday traditions, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. To me, family traditions are very personal and sentimental. I enjoy hearing other people tell me their traditions and routines, some of which have been passed down for generations, but I was protective of ours.

But the more I thought about it, the more I viewed it as a tribute to my mother, so hear it goes.

Each year, my mother planted wheatgrass in old shaving cups, and we watched them grow between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She never really explained the story behind the wheatgrass except to say she liked the way it looked. Every year of her life she would grow her wheatgrass. All I knew was I had to go the store and buy her the seeds before Thanksgiving. That was it! Wheatgrass. No fabulous story of what wheatgrass symbolized. No story of her parents growing wheatgrass. There wasn’t much for the rest of us to do except water the plants. But every year it happened, and every year one of her kids would ask her on Christmas day to remind us again why she grew the wheatgrass. She would say she just liked it—that’s it.

I have since searched the internet and have seen some explanations about growing wheatgrass, but they have nothing to do with our Portuguese culture. It was my mother’s thing. When she died IMG_1090thirteen years ago, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, one of the first thoughts I had was that I had to grow wheatgrass! I remember going to the local market, buying the seeds, and planting them in those old shaving cups. When friends visited, they wondered if I was growing wheatgrass to press for juice. “Nope,” I would say, “it is for Christmas and I have no idea what it means.”

I have since gotten married and have two young children. They now help me plant the wheatgrass seeds and water the plants in the same old shaving cups. Maybe my mom had no significant reason for why she did this, but my hunch is that subconsciously she knew she was starting a tradition that would have a bigger impact than any story behind the wheatgrass.

Again this year, my daughters will ask why are we planting wheatgrass, and I will say I don’t know why except that my mother did it and I like keeping the tradition alive. That will lead to wonderful stories of my mother, whom they never had a chance to meet. I continue to learn from and marvel at my mother’s wisdom of planting these seeds—not just the wheatgrass seeds, but the seeds in my mind that ensure that family comes first. She must have known that the point of the wheatgrass was not about the wheatgrass itself, but the seed to start conversations that led to stories, laughter, and strong bonds between us as a family. It was almost a sleight of hand: Look at the wheatgrass while I bring this family together in a way you never saw coming.

I have no doubt my kids will be growing wheatgrass when they are older, and they will initially have no idea why, but they’ll get it. They will have a smile on their faces and, I hope, incredible memories, as well as a foundation to create new wonderful memories with their families.

May all of you have a wonderful holiday season. I now have to run and buy some more wheatgrass.


Christmas Isn’t Just for Children

(Excerpt from WQED Renaissance 1971 essay written by Fred Rogers)

I’ve heard many people say, ‘Christmas is just for the children’ with the idea that unless you’re a child you shouldn’t receive anything for Christmas. Of course Christmas is for children like Chanukah is for children and birthdays are for children – but not JUST for children. Receiving times are for everybody – and so are giving times.

During the early years of life children may experiment for long periods of time on just how much they can give without feeling empty. How helpful it is for them to learn their limits of giving! Grown-ups can experiment too and learn too recognize the times when we need to stop and be replenished.

The New Testament does not outline any special ways for celebrating Christmas. There is no mention of turkey or trees or wrapped up surprises; but, through it all, there is a family in the midst of which is an eternal gift. Our response to that gift is our meaning of Christmas.

How to give and how to receive is something for each person to decide in his or her own way. Respecting that decision in ourselves and in others (no matter what our age) gives meaning to any festival.

Christmas isn’t just for children. It’s another chance for everyone to grow.

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  • Chris / 23 December 2015 5:37

    Thank you for the lovely message in your blog. As the grandma who always plants wheatgrass in January I understand the magic of it. The message is hope and connection and life.

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  • Eric / 20 January 2017 9:33

    My godmother’s father always planted wheat grass around the holidays. He would grow it in these shallow plastic dishes and give them out to friends and family. My grandmother and my mom would always keep theirs near their manger sets. He too was Portuguese. Not sure the meaning though.

  • Dee / 17 December 2017 5:08

    It is a sign of obundance, of plenty. All Croatian families do it. There is the legend that when Jesus, Mary and Joseph were running away from Herod, Herod soldiers would most likely caught them on a big field but Mary had a handful of wheat seeds and she dropped them on the ground and overnight wheat grew so high and hick that the next morning when soldiers arrived at the field they tealized that no one could went that way so they returned. It’s just a legend but it’s cool one, and I love our tradition of plentiful