For many kids, Santa Claus’ impending arrival is high on their minds this time of year—though the season might look a bit different depending on your faith or heritage, even if you celebrate Christmas.
“No two celebrations are alike,” says Minister Christian Watkins, whose local church also celebrates Kwanzaa. “While we live in a global society, it’s important to understand that other folks celebrate differently, but it’s not any better or worse.”
So how can you and your children celebrate diverse cultural holidays respectfully?
Food for the Soul
Food is a key to any kid’s heart, and it can be a way for your child to actively participate in another cultural celebration. Whether you’re cooking, dining with friends or visiting a restaurant that cooks food specific to a certain culture, it’s good to prepare kids’ taste buds in advance.
That’s what Mansfield mom Erica Bekerman does with her four kids. While this time of year means honoring their Jewish faith through Hanukkah (or Chanukah), they’re no strangers to celebrating other cultural holidays, including Christmas, with friends.
“I might say, ‘OK, we’re gonna go somewhere and try some food. We probably have never tried any flavors like this before, so it might taste different than anything you’re used to,’” shares Bekerman, who volunteers at Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth, a reform synagogue. “‘You don’t have to eat it all if you don’t like it, but let’s try it.’”
Food also has a prominent place in the Christian holiday St. Lucia’s Day, celebrated Dec. 13 by Scandinavians. Traditionally, one girl chosen to represent St. Lucia in a procession wears a white robe and a wreath with candles on top. Celebrants enjoy saffron buns and other sweets.
“Exposing children to food is a window in which you know you can enter into somebody else’s culture,” says Almas Muscatwalla, a founding member of Faith Forward Dallas, a group that unites people of different faiths. Muscatwalla recommends trying out a new recipe from a cookbook and having your kids participate in the cooking process to introduce them to the meals of other celebrations.
Not Just a Game
Reading books from the library can be a great resource for kids to learn about cultural holidays, but Watkins says you can take it a step further. “Go to the community and see the Afro-centric bookstore and support them as well because most of them are, quite honestly, struggling because of lack of exposure,” he reveals.
When it comes to wanting your kids to celebrate holidays that aren’t connected to your own culture or religion, Watkins recommends using your best judgment in order to avoid cultural appropriation.
He says that playing games of other cultures is fine, as long as kids understand the context. In honor of the African-American holiday Kwanzaa—a time when celebrants pay tribute to their African roots—kids can play mancala. For Hanukkah, kids may play dreidel, a game that features a spinning top with four sides, each with a letter significant to the religion.
To ensure you’re celebrating respectfully, Watkins suggests seeking guidance from a member of the community whose traditions you’re participating in. “Ask questions and bring gifts to them in order to participate in the holiday that they hold sacred,” he says.
Muscatwalla recommends that kids who don’t celebrate Christmas craft homemade birthday cards for Jesus as way to relate. “Children at this time—for them, one of the most important things that they like to celebrate in their life is birthdays,” the Ismaili Muslim says. She adds that birthday cards can also be made for the current Imam, whose birthday Ismaili Muslims celebrate on Dec. 13.
Watkins agrees that homemade gifts are preferable. “Give something that was handmade or that came from the heart,” he says.
Foundation of Faith
Muscatwalla, whose family celebrates American holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, notes the similarities in the way various cultures celebrate holidays through food, music, games and gift giving.
“It’s interesting how similar you can be once you start kind of celebrating each other’s faith and culture,” she says. “You find more commonality than differences.”
Still, if you’re worried about confusing your kids about your beliefs, explain the distinction between other cultural holidays and your own, advises Bekerman.
“We can celebrate with them, we can learn about everything that they [do]—that doesn’t mean that’s your faith and what you believe, but you can still enjoy the holiday and celebrate with them,” she says.
Muscatwalla adds that celebrating the music, food and other traditions of your own cultural holidays can serve as reminders of your heritage, even as you learn about global traditions.
“There’s no one formula for that,” she shares. “It needs to be part and parcel of your daily conversations and your daily interactions in which you keep that [holiday] alive.”
Christmas Around the World
Even if your family celebrates Christmas, you might be unaware of some fun traditions that you and your kids can learn about—and try out—this season:
To celebrate St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6, kids can leave out their shoes for St. Nick to fill with presents like coins or chocolates—a tradition practiced by some Europeans and European Americans.
From Dec. 16–24, Latin Americans celebrate Las Posadas, which includes a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey to find lodging in preparation for the birth of Jesus. After finding a hospitable “inn” (typically a designated house or church), children break open a star-shaped piñata that contains candy, toys and money.
There’s a tradition, attributed to Germany, of hiding a pickle ornament in the tree. The child who finds the ornament on Christmas morning receives another present from Santa or a year of good fortune.
The British love Christmas crackers, which are cardboard tubes in festive wrapping that, when pulled apart, reveal a gift. (You can find crackers at the British Emporium in Grapevine; british-emporium.com.)
In Iceland, family members celebrate Jolabokaflod (“Christmas book flood” for all you non-Icelanders), in which they exchange books as gifts on Christmas Eve and read them during the night. Now there’s a tradition we can get behind!
Here are a few more cultural traditions to check out:
Go store to store searching for “room at the inn” at La Gran Plaza during their free Christmas Posadas on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 21–22. Besides a procession, there’ll be music and food from 1–5pm.
4200 S. Freeway, Fort Worth; 817/922-8888
Watch the lighting of a 9-foot-tall Lego menorah (yes, a Lego menorah) at the fifth annual Chanukah at Southlake Town Square. Then stay for hot latkes and doughnuts, music and kids activities. The free event takes place on Sunday, Dec. 22, at 5pm.
1349 Main St., Southlake
Celebrate Kwanzaa at The Dock Bookshop with candle lighting, refreshments, storytime, arts and crafts, films and more. The free event happens Dec. 26–31 from 2–4pm and 6–8pm, except Saturday, Dec. 28. On that day, the Community Kwanzaa Celebration from 1–8pm will include a showing of the film The Black Candle plus guest speakers, live performances, book signings and more.
6637 Meadowbrook Drive, Fort Worth; 817/457-5700
Image courtesy of iStock.