How to Honor Your Child’s Culture for the Holidays

The holidays are a very special time of the year, especially with 2020 being a difficult one to go through. This time of year can be like a breath of fresh air or a feeling of normalcy. Even if things look a little bit different, it’s a good idea to keep celebrating the various holidays that are important to your family. That being said, some parents out there have adopted children internationally or have children of different ethnicities. Other than the typically celebrated holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, various cultures also have other holidays or they celebrate the holidays that we’re accustomed to a little differently. If your child has a culture that you’re unfamiliar with, it wouldn’t hurt to do some research to see how you can keep your child connected to their roots and honor them. Regardless if they were adopted at birth or at an older age, it’s a great idea to know how to honor your child’s culture for the holidays.

China

One of the most important holidays for Chinese culture is the Chinese New Year. Also known as the Spring Festival, the holiday usually falls between January 21st and February 20th. The reason why it’s celebrated a little bit after the new year actually starts is that the new year is reckoned by when the new moon starts, making it a lunar new year. The festival lasts for a whole week with school and work canceled for at least the first few days. Every year is marked by a certain animal in the Chinese zodiac and there are twelve animals that are cycled through the zodiac calendar (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig). The animals are used as a representation of the years in China, but are also used to show how the year someone is born will “influence people’s personalities, career, compatibility, marriage, and fortune.”

If you adopted a child from China, this holiday is a great way for them to honor their culture. However, you may be wondering how you can help them celebrate Chinese New Year while living in America. There are actually some very simple things you can do that don’t require a lot of money or stress:

Clean Your House (Especially Dusting)

The Chinese culture is very superstitious and the Chinese people do certain “rituals” to ensure that their year starts off well. Usually a week before Chinese New Year officially begins, one of the ways they prepare is by deep cleaning the entire house. They purge through their belongings and get rid of all the dust as a way to “sweep away the bad luck.” This can be a good time to encourage your child to get rid of toys they don’t want or clothes they no longer fit into. Your child can also help you do the chores around the house, even if they’re a bit younger.

Decorate Your House

The main color for house decorations during Chinese New Year is red which symbolizes “family reunion, prosperity, happiness and vitality.” You can hang Chinese lanterns inside and outside of the home, hang up door couplets on your front door, paper cuttings, and Chinese knots (which symbolize “safety and auspiciousness.”) Check out this article to see pictures and learn more about the different decorations.

Red Envelopes

Filling red envelopes with money and giving them out to relatives is a tradition still being followed today. Once again the color red is used to promote blessings and happiness, and an envelope is used to protect others and to ward off the evil spirits. There’s no right or wrong amount of money to put in the envelopes. 

These are just a few ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year. If you want to read more and get a better idea of how the holiday is celebrated throughout the week leading up to and during, then check out this article. This holiday is typically spent with family and friends so feel free to include more people to make it special. Also, don’t forget the food. There are specific types of food eaten a certain way to make sure that the year starts off with a bang. You can read more about the food here.

Ukraine

Fun fact: the people in Ukraine celebrate Christmas twice. The second Christmas occurs on January 7th every year which is Christmas day according to the Julian calendar. The people of Ukraine still celebrate the typical December 25th Christmas which coincides with the Gregorian calendar. Ukraine’s main religion is Orthodox Christianity, hence the reason for using the Julian calendar. The Christmas holiday on January 7th “is a time of reflection, inner thoughts, and healing.”

It may seem slightly redundant to celebrate another Christmas, but this is a holiday that’s very important to the Ukrainians. That being said, it doesn’t need to be extravagant or complicated. The Orthodox Christmas is actually quite simple:

Fasting and Feasting

Some members of the Orthodox church may fast from food beforehand, but the day of Christmas is full of celebration. The time of feasting is when the first star is seen on January 6th to commemorate the star that led the Magi to Jesus after he was born. The meal consists of 12 entrees to represent Jesus’ disciples and the entrees usually don’t have milk, meat, or eggs in them. Check out this article to read more about the traditional food used.

Singing Christmas Carols

When everyone is done eating the meal, it’s time to sing songs either at the table or go out caroling in the streets. Some carry a star to represent the star of Bethlehem while out and about. This could be a fun tradition to sing Christmas songs together as a family. It may be strange to some to celebrate another Christmas at the beginning of the new year, but this is a very special holiday for the people of Ukraine. You can honor your child’s culture by celebrating another Christmas, with some similarities to the Christmas that Americans celebrate.

Special Christmas Decorations

Another important aspect to consider is how certain decorations are extremely essential to celebrating this special Christmas day. The Ukrainian culture reveres grain, and they even bring a sheaf of wheat into the house as a constant reminder of their ancestors and agriculture. If you think about it, it’s similar to the way Americans put up a Christmas tree as a sign of everlasting life with God. Not everyone understands or knows the symbolism of a Christmas tree or see it as significant. They may put up the tree because it is tradition. Yet, it remains true that the tree is a symbol of Christmas in America and a sheaf of wheat is an essential Ukrainian decoration.

Another of their decorations may seem more like something for Halloween, but Ukrainians decorate their houses with fake spider webs made of paper and silver wire. The purpose of this is due to the story of The Christmas Spider which is also told in other European countries. Most variations of the story are about a very poor family on Christmas who can’t afford to decorate their tree. When everyone wakes up the next morning, they discover a spider who decorated the tree with cobwebs which magically turn into silver and gold. This is also a legend of how tinsel was originally made.

India

TripSavvy compares the Chinese New Year to the celebration of Diwali in India and other countries in Southeast Asia. Diwali is one of the biggest festivals in India and is celebrated very lavishly. Some people look at this holiday as a new beginning with the hope to be prosperous in the coming years. Lanterns, lights, and fireworks go on throughout the night to scare away evil spirits and represent goodness conquering evil. It’s usually celebrated between October and November and the length of the festival varies. 

If you live in a larger city, you might be able to find a big Diwali celebration to take your child to. Honoring your child’s culture with your own family is great, but it also could be a good idea to immerse them with others that either immigrated from India or are Indian-American. Even though you’re the parent and you want to be involved in the celebrations, it’s okay to ask for help and get guidance from those who live that culture throughout their lives. If you don’t live in a larger city, there are some ways that you can honor and celebrate Diwali at home with family and friends:

Cleaning and Bringing in the New

Just like the in Chinese New Year, cleaning is important prior to celebrating Diwali. This is an easy way to get your child involved in the celebration (although they may not be enthused about doing extra chores). It goes along with the saying, “out with the old and in with the new.” After the cleaning has ceased, gifts, clothes, food, and other things are purchased. The day after Diwali is the time to exchange presents, and the very last day is special as it’s the time for siblings to be together.

Shop at Indian Stores

If you live in a larger city, you might be able to find Indian stores. Especially around the time of Diwali, they will have decorations, food, drinks, and even gifts to help bring a little bit of their home country to America. If you don’t live in a larger city and you’re uncertain of Indian stores near you, don’t fret just check out Amazon. 

Traditional Clothes and Food

One way to honor your child’s culture is to get them traditional clothes from their home country. If you’re good at using a sewing machine, a homemade sari could be extremely special. However, if you’re unsure about making the clothing, then always check out what’s out there online. This blogpost has different examples of what boys and girls wear on the different days of Diwali.

Lastly, there are many options regarding what kind of food is eaten during Diwali. If you have an Indian restaurant near you, you could get takeout and feast as a family. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to try something new and make it with your child. This article has 20 different recipes for Diwali.

Obviously, these are just a few of the countries where international adoptions are popular. Depending on where your child is from (especially from a larger country like Africa) can determine what kind of holidays are celebrated and when they’re celebrated. However, don’t let that overwhelm you. It doesn’t hurt to do some research if you’re still confused about how to honor your child’s culture and celebrate with them. If your child is older, they may be able to help you and explain what holidays they celebrated back in their home country, how they were celebrated, and maybe even why they’re celebrated. The United States has a lot of different communities throughout the country that would probably love to get plugged in with you and give you ideas on how to celebrate these special holidays. 

No matter where your child was born, there’s always something you can do to make the holidays special and honor them. Whether it’s getting traditional clothes from their county, doing certain rituals, or buying or making food, your child will feel so loved knowing that you’re honoring their culture and are building that foundation with them. It could be a great way to really bond with your child too. When in doubt, just do some research on the internet. There could also be some children’s books that you can read to your child. Try Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin for Chinese New Year, Christmas in Ukraine by World Book Encyclopedia for Orthodox Christmas, and Binny’s Diwali by Thrity Umrigar. Of course, these aren’t the only options. There are many delightful children’s books about these holidays and all the other ones around the world. It can be a good start to honoring your child’s culture in the years to come.