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Banana leaves and pecan pie

Tamales wrapped with banana leaves for Christmas dinner? For those from Venezuela, they're as traditional as Americans' turkey, ham, or roast beef.

But when you're living in the US, far from your tropical homeland, how do you find them?

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It's not easy, lamented a co-worker as we discussed our families' traditional Christmas meals.

While I've never had to hunt for banana leaves, I do remember what it was like trying to locate sweet potatoes in a tiny German village one December.

It's a dilemma that faces anyone who moves to another country: Do you maintain your own holiday traditions, do you adopt those of your new land, or do you somehow blend the two? (See story.)

Sometimes the difficulty of continuing a tradition makes the decision for you. I knew that our holiday joy wasn't dependent on sweet potatoes, so we managed without them. But there are times when the pull of tradition is so strong, people persist. The year a friend of one of our sons was attending Cambridge University in England, she longed for the pecan pie of her Texas childhood. Instead of opting for walnuts, she had her parents airmail the pecans to her.

Still, I would guess that she brought some English traditions back to the US with her to remind her of those days.

I know that after we returned home, my husband and I often hunted for Brötchen (rolls) and an esoteric ingredient to go in my favorite German cookie recipe. And our Christmas-tree decorating has a strong Teutonic influence.

Blending holiday customs may be a tiny step toward better under-standing the other inhabitants of this world we live in. But it is a step.