Thursday, December 18, 2014

Which traditions do you choose?

Just realized that this is going to be another ex-pat post! I guess there's nothing like the holidays to prompt some cultural analysis.

Bulletin Board Christmas re-do

It's harder to pass on traditions when it isn't reinforced by the world around you when you walk out the door of your house! I am genuinely happy for my new parent (or aunt/uncle) friends who are able to take the kiddies to pumpkin patches, dress them in turkey onesies, and sit them on Santa's knee...followed by a spring photo shoot in pastels for Easter! These are very positive, fun traditions. But since they are mostly driven by culture and a nostalgia for one's childhood, they can quickly go from inspiring to irrelevant once you live abroad or don't celebrate with your siblings anymore.

I know I have often written on my blog about making new traditions. Maybe I even write the same thing each year and then forget about it. But I'm new to making traditions while parenting, so I still have a lot of unanswered questions for this stage of life.

Today I was thinking to do you explain this whole "Christmas season" thing to someone outside the American/Western culture? I'm really wondering this. What are elves? Who is Santa? Why red and green? Why snow? Why is it important to get in the "Christmas spirit"?

Is it okay if the answer is simply that they were your own traditions growing up and you are now passing them on? Of course! Maybe it is even better than reading too much into them. But when the time comes to pass them on, it gets more complicated if you are the main channel through which the customs are taught. In your native culture, the "teaching" might begin with a question about something observed (Who was that bearded guy in a red suit at the mall?). But when you don't have that context, it takes more effort to both introduce and reinforce these concepts. If my family is going to make a tradition of watching "Elf" each year, for example, there is a lot of context there. Will it be worth it if I have to explain the jokes (Andrei, thankfully, is very astute when it comes to cross-cultural humor)?

When I think about my main priorities, one thing I am highly invested in is language development. The information that I fail to pass on (partly because I'm just one person) can be found in books, letters, stories, and conversations. As long as David is able (and willing) to read his Bible, he will know the story of Jesus' birth and its significance. He will be able to look up Christmas recipes online. He will watch Christmas movies if he wants to and he will be able to talk to relatives about holidays past and present.

Even the Sunday school materials from when I was a kid are a little archaic. I can recognize that, so some creativity is needed. But there are still plenty of time-tested traditions that will be good to pass on.

A question remains as to cultural education. Should I be concerned about David's awareness of American culture, in order to eventually have something in common with his peer group? Okay, I know he's a toddler, but is it going to be bad if he gets to high school without partaking in a Thanksgiving dinner? I don't know...I just think about these things.

Cleared a shelf off for Advent paraphernalia, but it pretty much got trashed...


  1. Well, my Russian kids don't feel "out of it" not having done American holidays all these years. Of course, we live in a university town, not small-town Indiana or Wyoming. Multi-culturalism is big here.

    In fact, probably one of our up and coming traditions will be attending the Our Lady of Guadalupe bi-lingual Mass and Mexican dinner at church.

    My take is a little different, because once I became Catholic my zeal was all for bringing in the traditional religious customs and traditions and trashing the secular ones. So - in with the Advent Wreath. (This year out with the Advent Wreath because Monnie kept trashing it.) In with the Advent Calendar. (This year I just come home every day to find it flattened.) We made an Advent chain with meditations on the titles of Jesus, but this is now in the toy box, the worse for wear with meditations forgotten.

    With the older kids we developed a tradition of putting up the tree on "pink" (Gaudete) Sunday. We didn't do it this year because, honestly, I cannot fathom how we could keep it from the wild child. I can't believe we won't put up a tree - but we will be out of town Christmas week, and see Aidan's. Christmas story books are out, though.

    I hope we can take a drive to look at Christmas lights at some point.

    We will hang stockings. We will go to Mass, of course.

    I brought in celebration of Epiphany, and we usually have the kids prepare the meal, which includes a baby hidden in the dessert.

    Thanksgiving - we have a tradition of me making some more elaborate Russian food! This year it was pelmeni.

  2. Well, a marriage is always a merging of different cultures, and you have even more variety with your big family. Yep, a lot of our decorations were "trashed" this year too, so I didn't even bother with a tree. I can never understand the photos of people's toddlers with the Christmas tree and a clean house. In terms of traditions, the Catholic materials on Advent are by far the best I've seen, and there are enough ideas for several years to come.


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