For years, Monica’s mother-in-law, Lina, has been giving her porcelain dolls for Christmas. Mon always assumed they were just antiques and kept them hidden in her closet. But her husband, Andy, sees them and reveals their purpose.
I’ve been married to my husband for the past five years, and every year, my mother-in-law used to give me porcelain dolls. At first, I thought it was sweet because they looked like they were antiques, and she always gave them to me in a box when nobody was around us.
I just assumed they were from her collection, and she didn’t want the rest of the family to know.
But I was so wrong.
I’m not a doll person, so there was never a need to display them anywhere in our home. Instead, I kept hiding them away at the back of my closet because I didn’t know what else to do with them. I thought about taking them over for the kids at the nearby orphanage, but what would they do with fragile porcelain dolls that couldn’t really be played with?
This year, my husband promised me a new closet for Christmas, so a few weeks before that, we were packing away all of my clothes before the carpenter turned the closet into a custom piece.
Anyway, I was kneeling and pulling out the dolls when Andy, my husband, went pale.
“Where are those from?” he asked, pointing to the first doll.”
From your Mom, they’ve been my Christmas presents for all these years,” I said.
“Five years? Monica, really?”
“Come with me,” he said, picking them up and rushing out of our bedroom.
“Where are you going?” I asked, following him.
I hadn’t seen Andy so worked up since his car was stolen when we were dating. I followed him to the living room, where he threw all the dolls into the fireplace and lit a fire. It was the middle of winter, so the fireplace was constantly used. It didn’t take long before the flames were licking at the dolls.
“Please explain why you just did that,” I said, sitting on the couch.
Andy just looked at me, horrified.
“Mon,” he said. “You know that our cultures are very different, right?”
I nodded. Of course, I knew I was still learning about Andy’s culture.
“Honey, these dolls are for cleansing the homes that they are put in. They remove all the negative energy. That’s their role — to absorb energy and protect the house.”
“That sounds good,” I said, intrigued by this story. But also a little spooked because Lina, my mother-in-law, never mentioned it.
“Yes and no,” Andy said. “According to the legend, the dolls reach a point where they can no longer absorb any more negative energy. It’s like they absorb everything they can, and then when they can’t do it anymore, they begin to poison the air around them. Enveloping the house in diseases. They are said to literally make the air toxic.”
“What?” I exclaimed, perplexed. “How can we fix this? They’ve been here for years!”
“Well, I know that burning them is a way to symbolically dispose of all the energy absorbed. So, that’s why I set them alight. Usually, you have to add incense and possibly flowers as an offering and do it outdoors, but this should be okay for now.”
“You’re being serious about all of this?” I asked.
I knew Andy wouldn’t have reacted this way for nothing, but this was insane. Lina should have told me.
“It’s just tradition, but I didn’t know that this was what Mom gave you every year.”
Later, after Andy had scooped up all of the ashes and took them to the nearby park to dispose of them, I phoned my mother-in-law. I just needed some answers about why she didn’t tell me about the dolls and their use.
Lina answered the phone and listened to me in silence.
“It’s your responsibility, Monica,” she said. “You need to learn about our family traditions. Especially if you and Andy want to have children one day. Don’t accept gifts without understanding their purpose.”
I was shaken by the whole situation, I’ll admit that. But I realized there was more to our cultural differences than I had thought.
That Christmas, Andy and I decided to be more open about our family traditions, no matter how peculiar they seem. Ultimately, it turned out to be a revelation that brought us closer and added a new layer of understanding to our relationship.
Now, Andy and I talk about all his culture’s weird and wonderful superstitions, and I make recipes that date back to my great-grandmother’s time, as my family isn’t really cultural.
All I’m saying is: if you’re in a relationship with someone of a different culture, get to know everything you can — especially if dolls are involved!
Now, how would you have reacted to this?
While you’re avoiding the porcelain dolls in your home, here’s another story for you: Whether it’s the holiday season or one of those months when you have to attend a friend’s wedding followed by some birthdays, exchanging gifts helps bring smiles to your loved one’s faces; unless the present is so terrible that it leaves them with unanswered questions.