Discussions on how multicultural families celebrate the holidays typically center on those who have different religious faiths. But even a couple composed of two Christians can clash culturally. A Mexican-American family may incorporate different foods at Christmas dinner than an Anglo-American family would. So what happens if members from these two families marry? The couple will have to learn to integrate the cultural diversity of both into holiday celebrations.
Deciding the Foods to Serve
Peking duck for Thanksgiving? Tamales for Christmas? Not what you’re used to at holiday meals? When you date or marry cross culturally, you may be asked to incorporate foods into holiday dinners that you never had as a child. This can lead to conflict if both you and your significant other believe that certain foods must be served at holiday meals to make them authentic. To work out any differences ahead of time, you and your significant other should get together weeks before the holiday season begins and list the holiday foods you each consider negotiable and non-negotiable. If your family of origin traditionally serves bread rolls and green beans at Thanksgiving, but you can do without them, put them in the negotiable category to make way for the cornbread and collard greens your wife says she can’t do without. Another way to compromise is to rotate the ethnic foods favored by you and your spouse on various holidays.
If neither you nor your wife is willing to bend much, be prepared to have a large holiday feast. The way to pull this off isn’t by slaving away in the kitchen. Instead, enlist your extended family to bring the ethnic foods that you and your partner crave. Your father-in-law can roast a duck, and your great aunt can supply the baked macaroni-and-cheese. If you and your partner won’t be preparing a holiday feast but having dinner at your family’s home or your in-laws’ home, ask if it’s okay to complement their meal with the ethnic foods that you or your spouse prefer.
Which Holiday Films Will You Screen?
Which holiday films did you grow up watching as a child? Your significant other may have spent the holidays taking in classics such as “Miracle on 34th Street”, “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story” and expect to maintain that tradition in your relationship. But what if the only holiday fare you took in involved the Grinch and Charlie Brown, and now you prefer contemporary holiday flicks featuring casts of color such as “The Preacher’s Wife” or “This Christmas”? Just as with holiday foods, you may have to agree to rotate holiday flicks. You may also appeal to family and friends. If you’re inviting them over for a holiday get-together, poll them on the films they’d most like to see while in your company. Maybe they’ve seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” a gazillion times and are ready for a new holiday film.
Children can complicate this issue, however. What if your mate wants the kids to have the same holiday viewing experience she had growing up? Agree to show at least one of your mate’s favorite holiday films to your children each holiday season. Before long, your kids will be old enough to decide for themselves the films that suit them best. They may thumb their noses at watching a black-and-white flick or anything that’s not animated.
Where to Worship Together
Perhaps you and your spouse are both non-denominational Christians who rarely visit church. When Christmas rolls around, however, your spouse insists that the family attend services. The problem is your spouse grew up in a church where worship’s in Korean and wants to return to that church because that’s where his parents and extended family will be. Do you, a non-Korean speaker, sit through services you don’t understand, or do you suggest that he attend services at your family’s Episcopal cathedral? That poses problems, too, though. The congregation there is nearly all white.
Perhaps each of you can take turns feeling like a fish out of water. You’ll attend the Korean church for Christmas and the Episcopal church for Easter. On the other hand, you may decide to stay home while your spouse takes the kids to the Korean church. You and your mate may also opt to create a “new normal” and find a church that’s suitable for you, him and your children. While tradition figures prominently into the holidays, the occasions also mark a time for young families to create customs of their own.
When to Exchange Gifts
When to exchange gifts during the holidays not only depends on whether you and your spouse practice the same religion but on your cultural origins as well. Even if both of you are Christians, one of you may have grown up opening gifts on Christmas Day, while the other may have grown up in a culture were gift exchanges take place on Christmas Eve or another time during the holiday season.
Now that you’re a couple, deciding when to exchange gifts will likely depend on whose family you plan to spend the holidays with or whether you have children. If you have children in elementary school and want them to believe in Santa Claus, you’ll probably opt to have them open gifts on Christmas morning. However, you could also explain to your children that family members have bought each other gifts that they want to open on Christmas Eve. This distinguishes any gifts they’ll receive then from the gifts Santa will provide Christmas morning. If you and your mate don’t have children, you may decide to open some gifts on Christmas Eve and others on Christmas Day so that both of your cultural traditions are validated.
Everyone celebrates the holidays differently. Even couples with the same cultural backgrounds may differ on the foods to eat, the films to watch and the places to worship during the holidays. To have a happy holiday season, those in interracial relationships must take care to value the unique customs their mates literally bring to the table. If you were born in the United States but your spouse wasn’t, don’t label yourself as the expert on how to celebrate holidays in America and put down her traditions as silly or inauthentic. By valuing your significant other’s holiday traditions, your understanding of holidays will deepen.