Keeping traditions alive in the Familia López poses a unique challenge. I am an Anglo-American, born and raised in the United States with both my father’s Jewish traditions and my mother’s Protestant ones. My husband is Latino, raised in a muy Católico household in El Salvador.
As a result, our niños play dreidel on Hanukkah, sing Las Mañanitas to the Virgin of Guadalupe accompanied by Mariachi, and always make sure to leave cookies for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
But even with a mutual respect and love for each others culture, language, and traditions, there are still times when we find ourselves in a pickle when deciding which traditions to pass onto our children. Christmas time is a particularly complex dance between worlds.
Do we attend midnight Spanish language Catholic mass on Christmas Eve or English language Christmas Day sunrise service at a Protestant church? (Or both while consuming mass quantities of caffeine to stay awake?) For Christmas dinner do we eat ham or tamales? (Maybe tamales de puerco?)
For example, last year we participated in the uniquely Latin American tradition of Las Posadas with the local Latino community. The kids had fun escorting a statue of Maria and José door-to-door asking for lodging but it reminded me of the fairy tale of the Three Little Pigs, except Mary and Joseph didn’t threaten to “huff and puff and blow your house down” like the Big Bad Wolf. (Sacrilegious, I know.)
And my Salvadoran husband has always been baffled by the carrots the children leave out on the patio for Santa’s reindeer on Christmas Eve. (As if that weren’t bad enough, he has to then watch his peculiar gringa wife run outside into the snow in her bare feet after putting the children to bed, to nibble the carrots and make them look half-eaten.)
Many traditions can seem strange if they aren’t the ones you grew up with. The blessing of this lifestyle is that trying to give your children the best of both worlds teaches them to be adventurous, curious, and eager to try new things. These are great qualities! (Until they’re teenagers, then perhaps you’ll feel differently.)
For others finding themselves trying to straddle two different cultures, here are a few tips to guarantee your familia is in a harmonious holiday spirit.
#1. Sit down with your spouse and make a list of traditions that are important to each of you.
#2. If any of the traditions directly conflicts with another, talk it out to find a compromise or agree to alternate each year.
#3. Don’t forget the specialness that can be found in making new traditions! Some ideas: Build a snowman as a family, volunteer at a soup kitchen, go sledding, decorate the tree together, drive around and look at the lights in the neighborhood, do a puzzle on Christmas Eve, have cinnamon rolls or another special breakfast on Christmas morning, buy a family ornament to add to the tree, and/or try a new cookie recipe each year along with the traditional favorites.
And here is one tradition my husband and I definitely agree on: Kissing under the mistletoe.
Señora López is an (as of yet unpublished), American writer of multicultural fiction. When she’s not writing, she’s reading or getting into some sort of I Love Lucy-esque trouble. Her other passions include human rights, travel, and Hawaiian pizza with curry powder. She and her husband are both bilingual and proud to be bringing up two Spanglish speaking boys. Feel free to visit her at Latina-ish.
Now it’s your turn. How do you merge two or more cultures into your holiday traditions? Any tips?
Your Bicultural Holiday Traditions continues tomorrow with a story from Melissa, Mis Hijos También, who reminisces about Christmas time spent visiting her abuela in Puerto Rico, and how she’s keeping her alive through the foods and traditions she lovingly passed down. Make sure you’re subscribed to our feed either by RSS or email so you don’t miss a beat.