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celebrations/holidays - multicultural

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
How do you deal with celebrations in your multicultural families?
Families as ours have holidays originating from more than one culture so there is much to be celebrated over the year, much more than in a one-culture family.

I am a native Belgian and grew up in a catholic-christian culture, was baptized, went to catholic schools, etc. My parents were not practising religion; it was more part of tradition to do the celebrations and ceremonies. I am an atheist but appreciate my cultural heritage and of course my values are mainly based on a christian upbringing.

My husband can be described as a Turkish citizen of Arabic-Kurdish ethnicity, he was born muslim and grew up in a devote muslim family. He is not practising any religion (as a matter of fact I believe I have practised much more 'structured (and obligatory)' religion myself during my schoolyears :-). So he too has his own religious and cultural heritage.

We live in Turkey's capital, where you have a mixture of all of Turkey's languages/religions/ethnicities/origins, but the overall majority of Turks is muslim, and the religion is practised or non-practised in all kinds of gradations. With non-practised I mean that the lifestyle is more based on a muslim culture than on a muslim religion.
Just as so many aspects of Belgian society and celebration have their roots in a religious context but nowadays are more part of the culture, at least that counts for many of Belgium's native citizens.

So far for the background.
Now that we have two small children (they're growing so fast, they start to understand more and more of what we teach them, of our way of life etc.) I think it is just a good thing to try to deal with holidays and other costums in a consequent way that feels ok for all of us, and to do it so from the very beginning.
But it is a bit of a struggle: how to deal with celebrations from both parents' cultures? Since we are both non-religious and do not wish to raise our children religiously (e.g. on registration with the authorities we left 'religion' blank) we don't intend to celebrate or explain those from a religious point of view. Only it seems it's not so easy to do that.
Now I speak of holidays or times of the year like X-mas, Easter, Sinterklaas (Dutch/Belgian version of Santa, 6 Dec.), Valentine, Ramadan, Eid (in Turkish Şeker bayramı and Kurban bayramı) and some other habits which are or were linked to religious days (for both cultures/(religions) in our lives).
We do celebrate most of these as family feasts in small circle, just husband, me and kids, in which we are spending time together, doing fun things, make it a special day, and a lot of all that is based on traditional habits (cfr. X-mas tree, presents, special foods, decorating, egghunt, new outfit for the kids, a traditional dish to serve, dressing up, sometimes visiting neighbours or family...) Some of the local Turkish celebrations involve also visits to family and/or neighbours. That's also the case for the ones in Belgium but that's not where we live so most of these we experience more or less isolated from a community.
Only, the problem is that I do know the background of these feasts, big part of the explanation is based on religion. How or to what extent can I and my husband explain the meaning of these celebrations to our children without making it a religious point, or give those special days really a 'deeper', special meaning and not merely experiencing or treating those as a commercial thing?
So far (in my explanations) X-mas is the celebration of winter to end and the starting of the lenghtening of the days, and celebrated as a cosy family feast under the tree. Easter is celebration of spring.
(The muslim celebrations are my husbands thing but he doesn't have much of a clue to be honest)

How are your families dealing with this (in a religious or non-religious way: all advice or stories welcome)?
Very curious.

Also, our youngest started (private) pre-school this year, but for X-mas I kept him at home to celebrate together. My husband works for an international organisation which gives X-mas, and muslim holidays, as a day off so he was home too, that made it very special. I find it weird if just everyone in the household would go to work/school on such a special day. How do you deal with that? Are you willing or able to have your husbands and children at home for holidays which are not the holidays of the country you live in?


Me :
4y old
2y old
post #2 of 10
DH and I are both atheists and we celebrate the solstices and equinoxes, as well as non-religious cultural stuff, like American Thanksgiving. We borrow specific traditions from our cultures, like traditional Danish Christmas Eve food… but we celebrate it a few days earlier on winter solstice instead of on Christmas. The vernal equinox is close to Easter, and those are the two "big" holidays here in Denmark. I'm afraid I don't have any post-kids experience with it, though! I can highly recommend the book and website Parenting Beyond Belief for tips on raising children non-religiously in a religious world. It is kinda Ameri-anglo-centric but even outside the US/UK I think you can get a lot from the essays.
post #3 of 10
Hoş geldiniz Istanbul'dan, Ernalala! I'm an American married to a Turk, but we live in Istanbul. I reverted to Islam several years ago, so the religious holidays are actually in our favor here and we don't celebrate any traditional Christian/American holidays. We make sort of a nod towards the holiday season by celebrating New Years with all the stuff we like to eat from Thanksgiving (turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, etc) combined with small gift-giving. I'm more concerned with how we will celebrate Turkish/Muslim holidays should we return to the US.

How are you liking Ankara and how long have you lived there?
post #4 of 10
We're Christian, and we sort of do the reverse.

We celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, since I consider Easter more of a pagan holiday (which I think is especially cool for pagans to celebrate). There's still some of the secular/pagan imagery; I get a basket of goodies every year, but it's mostly about the Jesus story. DH is Filipino, so we celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) instead of Halloween: skull decorations, and visiting the graves of family members who've died.

We'll do a modified Christmas, but not really as a religious holiday. There will be small gifts, and we'll talk about the historical figure of St. Nick, and how lots of people have decided to celebrate Christ's birth at this time. I have some struggles with the history behind American Thanksgiving, so I'm still trying to figure that one out...
post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 

ho to celebrate when ILs are at your house?


It's been happening quite often that we had muslim ILs visiting in a period with a 'christian' origin or other celebration, strange and/or unknown to them. I do not feel comfortable at all about celebrating then. And I'd really rather have, too, that we won't have any visitors (who do not understand the tradition or importance of that celebration) on such a day. Or to visit my ILs where we cannot celebrate my traditions while staying over at theirs. Because those times it ends up to be a total non-celebration, or it's veeeery low profile and almost hidden. Which is not fun at all.
They do not celebrate much else than the two eids. Weddings are mostly small celebrations too. Birthdays do not get celebrated neither new Year etc. They do not do Newroz (Kurdish new Year) either, they are just not really celebrating much during the year. They do have al lot of small traditions of which I do not know that much as well.

Luckily my husband understands quite well the importance of my own cultures celebration days to me. He also learned to enjoy most of them together in our new 'multicultural' household. So he tries to avoid we will have visitors on those days important to me and our family. My own family is not really a problem, because we just celebrate our 'own' feasts together and they also enjoy experiencing the local traditions/celebrations (month of ramazan-eid etc).

But in the Turkish culture things are not always arranged long in advanced. Which mean you can get a call anytime in the year of a relative (with or without wife and children etc.) who happens to be in town and wants to meet my HB or pay a visit to our house. That gives me stress easily, because it means switching from very multi-cultural 'do it your own way' to the 'other culture' in no time and making preparations the way they're used to, as wife being the perfect host, offering full Turkish hospitality (haha, and cooking). I do not mind about this type of hospitality itself, but it is not so obvious since hospitality is shown otherwise where I come from (and cooking culture is different, and our home kitchen is mixed Turkish/Belgian/international), and what really bothers me is the last-minute (sometimes the same day!) warning I get. Most of the time 'I' managed quite well, but I did not find the pressure/stress about it much fun. Even though my husband says to just relax and really not have to overdo it, ''we can order food if I you cannot manage because of a difficult day with the kids and last-minute visits at hand'', I know it is usually expected from me by the visitors. I hate to have the feeling that 'it is expected' for me to do :-).

I wonder how others with mixed traditions experience such 'difficult' situations?
post #6 of 10
Heheheheh. I'm thankful for Yemeksepeti. Saves my keester every time. I don't have the trouble with the cultural holidays, but a discreetly placed Yemeksepeti order can go a long way when you've got last-minute guests. Put it in your own dishes to serve and no one will know the difference.
post #7 of 10
We don't have any children yet. If we had to pick a set of beliefs we share, these would be our strong political and social beliefs.

We live in the US, and I was raised in an agnostic household where we celebrated cultural holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year's and Halloween. I feel like my parents didn't do enough to teach me values or give me a spiritual backing.

My husband grew up in a liberal Muslim family where a few people were truly religious, but most people just culturally observant. He lacks "the God gene" and is a happy materialist who leaves religion behind in favor of social action, whereas I believe that spiritual life can be fulfilling and offer perspective when a person faces struggle. However, I don't really have a religion of my own. Even though I admire Islam and have been exploring the religion, I doubt I will ever be Muslim, in part because my husband doesn't want to practice the religion. I am worried that our differences on this subject are going to result in a child even more confused than I am on this subject.

In educating myself about Islam, I have seen how that religion can actually be seen as very socialistic and in line with our values. We've talked about using Islamic holidays, stories and practices as a starting point that will connect the child to traditions of my husband's country and give us a chance to give him meaningful stories. Yet we are not Muslim, so how could we explain this to a child? And what will be say when the child asks "does God exist?" For me, the answer is complicated. For my husband, it's "probably not" or "no." I've also thought of using science-based materials like "The Universe Story" to teach our child. But it's all very confusing.

This seems more like a postmodern problem than a multicultural one. If anyone has thoughts on it, I'd love to hear them.
post #8 of 10
Since your husband is from a Muslim family, there's your impetus and reason for celebrating right there, whether he is observant or not. In many predominantly-Muslim countries, there are those who celebrate Eid as a cultural phenomenon rather than a spiritual one (aka "Eid-only Muslims"), just as there are those who celebrate Christmas and Easter as cultural holidays ("C & E Christians"). If you're not practicing a particular religion, the more holidays the better, I say!

(but only slightly) It is possible to live and practice as a Muslim woman without your husband practicing. Difficult at times, but possible. Drop in on the Muslim Mamas tribe sometime if you have questions.
post #9 of 10
DH is Swedish and I'm Canadian and we are living in Canada. We both grew up with the typical Christian holidays such as a Christmas/Easter etc, but with different traditions surrounding them. What we have done is make our own traditions by blending the Canadian and Swedish traditions. On Christmas Eve we have Swedish Christmas food, followed on Christmas day with a more Canadian Christmas celebration. Same with Easter, one day Swedish, one day Canadian (Swedes actually celebrate Easter on the Saturday, so it works well).

We celebrate Thanksgiving (Canadian) and we also celebrate Midsommar (Swedish - the local Swedish club has a party).

As far as family visiting (though of course it may different with two completely different cultures/religions) I have found that my family and my inlaws have enjoyed learning about and celebrating the holidays from the other cultures. When we lived in Sweden my parents came to visit over Thanksgiving and we made a big Thanksgiving dinner for the inlaws that they really enjoyed. And now in Canada my parents join us for Swedish Christmas and Easter and enjoy the new experience.
post #10 of 10
Originally Posted by Turkish Kate View Post
Since your husband is from a Muslim family, there's your impetus and reason for celebrating right there, whether he is observant or not. ... If you're not practicing a particular religion, the more holidays the better, I say!
Thanks for your encouraging words. When you put it that way, it makes perfect sense and helps me escape from the deep chasm of thinking too hard.
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