The holiday season is upon us with everything from Hanukkah and Kwanzaa to, of course, Christmas. Christmas is everywhere–glittering lights, decorations galore, trees of every size and shape, glowing candles, and more. The stores are decorated to the hilt, holiday permeates the air, and our TVs are filled with an overwhelming amount of holiday specials and messages—the commercialization of Christmas is omnipresent.
So how do parents of different cultures and religions manage raising children in the midst of all this and bring true meaning to their own traditions? We asked four moms to share their personal their stories to find out.
Maria Wen Adcock, Bicultural Mama
As a first-generation Chinese American, growing up there were no Christmas Wish Lists, stockings filled with treats, or presents from Santa. We did have a Christmas tree and empty stockings hanging over the fireplace (for decoration only). My parents wrapped presents, which were not things requested, but rather items we needed, such as socks.
As a child I pouted about the Barbies that never came, but I now understand my parents’ perspective. They grew up in China under an oppressive Communist regime where there was often a lack of food, clothing, and shelter. As such, they never bought into the commercialism of Christmas.
With my own bicultural family (Asian/Caucasian), I balance the two backgrounds of my daughter. I fill her stocking with treats, and Santa leaves presents under the tree. Gifts include something fun like a toy, but also practical items like clothes. In this way, she’ll enjoy the magic of Christmas while understanding that the holiday is not just about toys.
A Navaho Christmas
Megan Rosker, Let Children Play
I recently returned to teaching on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. While many native families are Christian and celebrate Christmas, one cannot help but notice how the Navajo culture permeates the holiday season.
Yesterday my second graders and I discussed a holiday craft we could make and present to parents at our holiday dinner next week. Instead of the traditional clay ornament to hang or the tree or handmade Christmas wreath, students began tossing out ideas such as “Let’s make a quilt.” “Can we weave a rug?” “My auntie knows how to weave. Can she teach the class?” I was surprised by their ambition at first, but quickly realized that these are the crafts they see men and women making daily. Asking them to make a penguin snow globe would be completely inappropriate and odd. The fathers and uncles make jewelry and sew as well. This is not designated to “women’s work,” as it often is in western culture. I was pleased when I heard even my toughest boys say they knew how to knit or would like to learn how.
This openness around men creating homemade crafts and arts is not something we embrace easily in our western world and we could take a lesson from Navajo culture when it comes to fathers and sons sewing, knitting, and making jewelry. Here in New Mexico these skills are regarded as valid and important ways to support one’s family and spread Navajo culture far beyond the reservation.
I believe my job this holiday season is to support my 21 students in learning and expressing these skills that have become hallmarks of their culture. This support helps them to feel that their skills and their expression are important to our larger American culture.
A Muslim Holiday
Ponn Sabra, American Muslim Mom
Many Muslims believe it’s impossible not to be affected by the omnipresence of everyone else’s religion during this time of year, but this has never been the case for my family. Born and raised in America, my three tweens are relatively unaffected by overt commercialization and exploitation year-round. For example, we rarely watch TV. If we do, we watch recorded shows and skip commercials. We also prefer our own CDs, family debates, and joke competitions rather than listening to the car radio. As Muslims, my girls and I rarely venture outdoors past sunset, so we don’t witness holiday lights often. Being Internet-savvy shoppers who despise crowds, we only go to the mall once a quarter. This includes after-holiday sales, instead of visits between Black Friday and Christmas.
Although my family is Christian and the majority of our days are spent with non-Muslims, being the minority causes those we encounter to openly respect our differences. Interestingly, more people inquire about our faith, rather than question our lack of participation in their festivities. Moreover, our girls particularly love the shorter days to spend quality family time together indoors with games, projects, and a lot of cuddling.
My husband and I don’t go out of our way to avoid the holiday spirit. However, we feel blessed to be able to create an atmosphere that perpetuates a great sense of pride in our girls, rather than make them feel alienated during other’s holidays. We definitely believe that’s worth celebrating!
Mara Shapiro, Be Nice or Leave, Thanks
Being Jewish at Christmas has become both easier and harder to manage. When I was a child, Christmas wasn’t so omnipresent. Sure, there were TV specials and gift giving and cards, but it wasn’t so…well, large. What was a deeply religious holiday has become so commercialized, so everywhere, that it’s glittery cup has runneth over.
The magic of Christmas has spread itself so completely across our culture that to many it’s no longer a religious event, but rather a secular one, like Valentine’s Day. Does that make it easier for us Jews? Well, it’s more open. The kids know what the holiday is all about (well not technically, as it’s not about Santa and snowmen, it’s about the birth of Christ). But that also means our holiday, Chanukah, The Festival of Lights has also been painted with a Christmas brush. Once a time of family and food, token gifts, and a little innocent gambling game called dreydels, it’s now decorations and gifts and shopping, and Chanukah Bushes, and…well, large.
So in a way being Jewish at Christmas has become easier because we don’t get as much “Why can’t we have Christmas?” but it’s harder too, as we fight to maintain our own traditions in the face of the strong influence of the Christmas season. And, just for the record, no, I don’t think it’s ok to have a tree even if it’s got menorahs and Jewish stars on it.