Celebrating Holidays in a Multi-Cultural Home

With two or more religions under one roof, the holiday season can be a unique and cherished opportunity to partake in new and old traditions, and even combine celebrations for a fusion of cultural diversity. From her own experience celebrating holidays within a multi-cultural family, Warner Bates attorney, and wife and mother, Traci Weiss offers insight on how to enjoy the season and uplift diversity:

How do you teach your kids about the importance of the holidays you are celebrating?
We explain how my husband and I each grew up with one set of holidays and how lucky they are to get to celebrate twice as many holidays. We try to find books about the different holidays, which help us teach the children about the background and purpose for each, including about each other’s holidays. I recently read a book to my son’s kindergarten class about a little boy whose mother celebrates Chanukah and whose Father celebrates Christmas. When the boy’s class was asked to share something about the holiday their family celebrated, he felt isolated and not sure how to answer about the 2 sets of holidays for his family - until his parents and classmates reassured him of the beauty of his heritage. My son’s teacher reached out to me about the book later that day, saying how much she appreciated the inclusiveness, especially for the several children in class also from multi-cultural families.

When your family was at its genesis, how did you deal with the transition of incorporating new traditions into your holiday season?
Instead of picking one holiday tradition or another, we have always tried to combine as many traditions as possible, and to invite both sides of the family to our holiday gatherings. For example, my husband’s family has joined us for our Passover seders, and my side of the family has joined us for Christmas Eve. The one tradition that I can think of that needed a little compromise was Christmas Eve. In Peru, they tend to begin their Christmas Eve celebrations at midnight and party well into the morning hours. My side tends to turn in much earlier. When we host the celebration, we start around mid-evening, understanding that people will likely arrive and leave at different times throughout the night.

What encouragement would you offer families who are struggling with conflicting religious views or celebrations in their homes?
If you have children together, remember that your children share equally in each of your religions and cultures, and disrespecting one tradition/culture is also disrespecting that part of your child. Rather than trying to win in a conflict about it, you can search for ways to include both sides. Most religions share a love and respect for family, which is important middle ground for any holiday celebration.

How has having multiple religions and cultures under one roof helped your kids to grow in their worldview?
They understand that my husband and I were each born in different parts of the world, speaking different languages, eating different foods, celebrating different holidays, and even having different skin colors. They see how to appreciate all the parts of themselves and others.

Are there any traditions you have formed from a fusion of the religions in your home?
We decorate the house for Christmas and Chanukah, including a Christmas tree fully decorated before Chanukah begins. Our presents for both holidays are placed under the tree before we give them out. We also light the menorah together for each night of Chanukah. Elf on the Shelf, Mensch on the Bench and Kippah Cantor dolls keep us entertained together between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. In addition, we host a Passover Seder each year, and whoever is with us – whether Jewish or not - takes turns reading a paragraph or two of the service.

How do you celebrate the cultural backgrounds of both your families without anyone feeling left out or forlorn?
In my experience, Peruvian mothers and Jewish mothers have a lot in common, and just try to keep traditions alive and everyone well fed. My mother-in-law lives with us, and she and I usually try to share our traditions with each other. Often, that means including a variety of traditional foods with our holiday meals, and sharing them with the rest of our family.