I invited 7 amazing guests from different cultures to talk about holiday celebrations from all over the World.
First you will hear from Mary, who is Canadian Chinese talking about her experience living in a country that mainly celebrates Christmas. As somebody who grew up in a Chinese culture celebrating Chinese New Years Eve, instead of Christmas, she feels pretty confident to teach her daughter that just because everybody else is does something, doesn’t mean that you have to follow! My second guest (or guests I should say) are Charis and Mahesh, an Indian-American couple, talking about their Christmas and Diwali celebration.
After them I have Lolitta who is originally from Uzbekistan. She spent 4 years in Israel before moving to the States, so I invited her to talk about the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah. She is also sharing a little bit about the New Year celebration in Russia. After Lolitta you can listen Petronella’s story about her journey from Uganda to the United States, and how the constant moving shaped the way her family celebrated Christmas.
My next guest is going to be Nivi, who was born in South India, but moved to America when she was only a year old. Nivi is going to tell us about the holidays she grew up celebrating and how they transformed over the years.Then you will hear from Aneesa (also known as ‘expat panda’) who is from South Africa currently living in the Middle East. I invited her to talk about Eid and her journey celebrating different holidays with her Christian partner. My last, but not least guest is going to be Diana from Romania. She is one of my friends here in Arizona. Diana will be sharing her orthodox Christmas traditions and how she adopted some of the American holidays.
Last year I shared our Hungarian-American Christmas traditions, feel free to check it out if you are interested.
I always thought that Santa wasn’t real. Our house never had a fireplace, so I always thought ‘well, I don’t have a chimney, so Santa is never going to come into my house anyway.’
We now tell our daughter that Christmas is about being with our family and eating a lot of good food. So a lot of our traditions are about taking that trip over, seeing both sides of the family and eating a lot of good food.
Since my parents don’t celebrate Christmas, we do all the Christmasy things with my partner’s side of the family. They give us presents, but they know that since we don’t celebrate Christmas, we usually won’t give them presents. And they are ok with it. My partner and I are trying to teach our daughter all about the different cultures.
I was the token Chinese person in the workplace. They would ask me about Chinese New Year, which moves around every year based on the calendar, so it could be in January or February. And that is really my winter holiday. Growing up we always got a little lucky red envelope with money, had to wear new clothes, we got new underwear, socks, and pajamas. You wear red or gold, because red is a lucky color. There are so many traditions and superstitions that go along with Chinese New Year. We always have a big family feast with 8 or 9 dishes that we make and cook. This holiday is not about the lucky red envelope and the money, but about the family interactions and food.
Whatever you want to do to impart in a tradition or culture for your family, do it! Own it! It doesn’t matter what other people think. You can open their eyes to different cultures and seeing a different way of living. Which isn’t bad or good. It’s just different! It’s just another way of being. People shouldn’t be afraid of sharing what they do, or be shy about saying, ‘you know what, I don’t celebrate Christmas.’ My kid doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. I do have to walk the fine line, because I don’t want to ruin Christmas for other children. Doing things differently that isn’t second nature or traditional to somebody else is ok.
Connect with Mary:
Podcast: The Homestay Kitchen
Podcast Instagram: @homestaykitchen
Diwali is something we compare to Christmas here in the US, and it’s celebrated over 3-4 days. In some places even a week. We buy new clothes for the family, and lots of festivities involving making homemade sweets. Firecrackers are what I remember the most from Diwali. We had this collection of huge boxes of firecrackers which would go off between me and my brother, and that’s the best memory I can remember from celebrating Diwali in India. -Makesh
Since we got married, we still kept Christmas going, but we also celebrate Diwali. I felt this was an incredible festival and I’m definitely embracing every aspect that comes in Indian culture. I’m fascinated with everything there is. Diwali has great history as well as the celebration. -Charis
Diwali translates to ‘the row of lights’ and it’s celebrated by lighting a row of ‘diya’ (diya means light in Hindi). People would put oil lamps outside their doors, and there are so many stories behind all of these traditions. A lot of religions in India celebrate this from the beginning of time, and each region has its own story and legends behind it.
There is no way of actually tracing how far back Diwali goes, or when it actually started. It could be because of the harvest, or the belief of the stories that are told. Like gods that are protecting and casting out things of evil, because it’s good versus evil within the stories. ‘Lakshmi’ day (the goddess of money and wealth), which is the third day of Diwali, we celebrate and cherish by giving offerings to the ‘Lakshmi’ goddess. It’s when most of the fireworks are set off, as well as prayers for the goddess is done.
But growing up here in America, I had the pleasure of having a white Christmas most years. Often we’d have two Christmas celebrations, because our relatives lived really far away. When it comes to the tree lighting, we put the star on last, because in my Christian belief we use the day of Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus. -Charis
My favorite part about Christmas is getting all the gifts. All of your friends and family are sending you ‘Happy Christmas’ cards as well as gifts from all around the world. It’s also special because we decorate the entire house with lights.” -Mahesh
Both holidays are very similar when it comes to having family, lights and gifts. But when it comes to Christmas I would have to say the best part is being with the family and the gifts. Especially giving them!
We like celebrating the holidays on the days that they are originally celebrated on. But when it comes to family matters, we want this to be a specific break in between each other, so that way the kids (when we have them in the future) can understand and respect fully both traditions. The 5 days of Diwali with all the lights and food and festivities. And when it comes to Christmas, we definitely want them to be able to celebrate in both regions.
I honestly think being open and embracing other peoples cultures or traditions is the best way to approach a new festival. Having an open mind and having the capacity to accept someone’s differences is very important. And I think that is the key for our relationship as well.
Connect with Charis and Mahesh:
YouTube channel: I Am Naidu
YouTube video about Diwali: What is Diwali
Hanukkah is a Jewish winter holiday, which celebrates the victory of the ‘Maccabees’ over the larger Syrian army. It’s also celebrating the miracle that happened during this time, where just a day supply of oil allowed the menorah in a rededicated Temple Jerusalem, to remain lit for eight days.
During Hanukkah we eat jelly filled donuts which are called ‘sufganiyot’ and they are very delicious. During the eight days of Hanukkah we light candles to remember the oil that lasted for eight days. We light the first candle on the first night of Hanukkah and we put them in the ‘menorah’ or the candelabrum (which is called hanukkiah). Some people also do gifts for their children. Either eight small gifts, one of each day, or sometimes they decide to do one large gift on the last day of Hanukkah.
My traditions changed a little as I moved to Arizona and married a man of a different religion. But we make it work, and celebrate both religions. In our family we still celebrate Hanukkah, but we do just one gift for our child. We also go to a Christian church together and to a Jewish synagogue on high holidays as well.
I feel like my child gets the best of both worlds as she learns about her origin. Hanukkah a lot of times falls right around Christmas time. So it’s extra exciting for our kid, as she gets more presents. Our daughter beliefs in Santa, and we go visit him in different locations. But she also loves going to Israel, and learning about the culture and the language.
We put out “Christmas Trees” called ‘Yolka’. After decorating it, underneath we put a house slipper for Santa to bring us a present. Usually you would get an orange and a small present. We also had a lot of festivals and children programs throughout the city and in our schools. We would dress up as snowflakes or Santa’s helper, which was his granddaughter, called ‘Snegurochka’. All the kids would be singing and dancing. Santa would be right in the middle of all of this with this granddaughter.
For New Years Eve people have big parties in their house, and invite all their friends and families to have a big feast. Traditionally we would have a ‘Kholodets’ which is kind of like jellied meat. We shared it with our American friends. But they didn’t really understand and thought it was pretty strange to eat cold meat jellified. There is also a dish called ‘Herring Under a Fur Coat’ .
I think multicultural couples can definitely work well together if they are really open minded and understand each others differences and traditions. You can have two different religions in one household and still be a happy family and really make it work as we do in our family.
Connect with Lolitta:
How we celebrated Christmas was really shaped by the community and culture we were immersed in. For me Christmas growing up was all about Father Christmas.
Father Christmas is like Santa Claus in America. I think part of that has to do with the fact that Uganda was colonized by the British, so a lot of how they celebrated Christmas became how we celebrate. I remember gifts weren’t a thing, but we would celebrate Midnight Mass. And then come home to couple gifts that Father Christmas had delivered. Nothing big or crazy. What I remember the most is that there would always be a lot of food. Everyone was in a good mood, there was a lot of joy. I remember we would play all kinds of music and everyone would get up and dance. It was such a joyous time.
It terms of food, there where a couple of things which are a little bit different in Uganda. ‘Matoke’ is a big deal. It’s a green banana that has been boiled and mashed up. Then my mom would make peanut stew which is very common in Uganda. Sometimes you may put in some type of meat, anchovies, beef or chicken. My mom had a grinder and she would grind the peanuts. Which is a part of what Christmas meant to me. We would get in the car, or walk around the neighborhood and just look at the lights. This holiday just meant a time to be with family and loved ones.
My advice based on the fact that I grew up all over the world, and that we picked different elements from what was going on around us, I would have the same recommendation for other multicultural couples or families. Decide and discuss what holidays are the most meaningful to you. What traditions and food? Incorporate all of that and make it your own. If there is something that you want to make your own, -like we are just going to start this tradition and do things this way,- do that! Because there is no right or wrong way to celebrate. As the world is becoming increasingly multicultural, I think it’s so fabulous to take little elements here and there from things that you love about one culture, and bring them together with another to create a new culture.
Connect with Petronella:
Podcast: I Am Multicultural Podcast
Podcast Instagram: @iammulticultural
I grew up mostly in California, but my family moved around a lot. In those first years we did celebrate Christmas, but I was too young to remember it. My mom tells me I was scared of Santa. So that was probably something I didn’t look forward to a lot. As long as I can remember, my family and I celebrated Christmas. Not religiously, since I come from a Hindu family. I think it was more of an exciting American thing that we sort of saw. I attended a lot of Christian and Catholic schools and that meant that Christmas was a huge thing in classrooms.
What I do remember is that all of the schools that I went to would put on a holiday concert. They taught us a bunch of Santa, Rudolf the reindeer songs, and they also gave us choreography.
The biggest thing that makes Christmas a distinct experience for me is that in addition to the fun stuff, like the tree decorating, presents and stocking, I associate Christmas and also all of the major holidays with Indian food.
It was a really fun way to gather together and celebrate this tradition, and also eat Indian food.
Two years ago I started dating someone who is Christian. I remember the first time Ben and I celebrated Christmas together. We went over to his parents house, everything seemed so different! I guess I didn’t expect the holiday to be so different since I did grow up celebrating Christmas. But I think they have more hard and fast traditions then we do. Their family has a soup dinner on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas day my family would usually sit everyone down around the table and eat a lot of Indian food. We would eat with our hands, sit at the table for hours afterwards, and get into arguments. His family was more like an open ended buffet style. Had a lot of food that I honestly never eaten before, and they say grace before meals.
We never went to Church, but we did go to a holiday concert that was different than the one that I’ve experienced as a kid. It was a very interesting time for me to experience so many religious undertones to an obviously religious holiday. But I guess I just never been part of it and I never even thought of Christmas as a Christian holiday. Which may sound silly. But I just grew up celebrating it as something you do and something that’s fun, instead of something that it religious.
The really funny part of our first Christmas was when my partner and I went to celebrate with my family. Our present scene was also totally different. Back at Ben’s house the Christmas tree was overflowing with presents at the base. I never in my life had seen presents in so much abundance. The number of presents and the quality was amazing! At my house, it’s usually like clothes and especially as we’ve all grown up over the years it’s become less and less. So having to bring him to my house it was like, ok here you get a box of chocolate.
I am definitely very lucky to have a family and friends that are open to learning and adopting holiday traditions. My favorite thing about being with a partner of a different ethnicity, culture and religion is that we get to share each other’s holidays. And even this holiday that we both technically have always celebrated. It’s just been a really cool fusion of getting these ideas of what can I take from both of our families going forward.
I think it’s fantastic to not only have different holidays that you celebrate together as a couple, but also figure out how to combine existing traditions and really make it your own.
Connect with Nivi:
Podcast: Get Schooled
Celebrations in the United Arab Emirates or in general in the Middle East are so diverse and there are so many aspects to consider. Winter here is not the snowy white winter that you see in the movies. Winter here is very sunny. It’s a lot of beach days, outdoor BBQs, it’s actually the time when the city comes alive. For the majority of the year we are dealing with 40 C and the only time that we are really able to spend time outdoors is during November to March period.
Winter here is not particularly characterized by a specific holiday. So I’m just going to talk in general about the national holidays here and how certain expats celebrate their specific holidays.
The holidays that I grew up celebrating is Eid. Eid is basically the Islamic version of Christmas. There are two Eids. ‘Eid al-Fitr’ is the Eid that happens after Ramadan, which is the fasting period. So it’s a time for feasting. It’s a time for food, getting together with family and celebrating the end of the fasting period. And then there is ‘Eid al-Adha’ which is the Eid of sacrifice, were people sacrifice certain animals and it’s also a time for feasting and getting together with family. In general both of these holidays (or days of significance) are very family orientated.
When we have holidays here for Eid, it’s usually 5 to 6 days.Which usually means that most people including myself choose to travel out of the region during this time. Being an expat here it’s a very isolating experience during the holiday periods and going away on a trip really helps. Eid is a very joyous time in general here. Lot’s of sales, everybody is off work, it’s very festive in terms of decorations.
A misconception is that people think that any non islamic celebrations are forbidden here in the Middle East. But specifically in the UAE this is so far from the truth. A high population of Indian expats live here, so Diwali is also a huge celebration that takes place usually around November time period. There are so many different events that go on here that if you had no idea about any of them. You can learn a lot just from attending different events here.
There is a huge spread of tolerance, a huge spread of harmony and unity between the people who live here, because there are so many different nationalities. So it’s really possible to learn about different festivals. And different days of significance for different religions. Which is one of the reasons that I really enjoy living here! People also think that there is no such thing as Christmas here, which is so far from the truth. I feel like people have this misconception that things that are not Islamic are not allowed here. Or that if you talk about Christmas, you’ll be arrested or there is no tolerance for other faiths. But actually it’s really open and really peaceful and harmonious society to live in.
We try to share a meal together, go on a trip. But it wouldn’t be a big family celebration of getting together for lunch or exchanging presents. He’s been learning a lot about Eid and I’ve been learning a lot about Christmas. The past couple of years that we’ve been together have been an education for us both.
The best part about living here is the exposure to so many different faiths, religions, cuisines and traditions. It has really broaden my horizons and open my eyes.
I haven’t adopted any specific traditions yet. I’m navigation my way to finding out how I really want to celebrate these kind of occasions. Mostly I’ve just been holidaying, which is not a bad way to spend these days. I’m still navigation my way through the intercultural relationship and still learning about each other. And enjoying this phase before we settle on our traditions and what we want to do.
Connect with Aneesa:
I remember as a child I was so excited about Christmas,. Because I was always thinking that Santa Claus is going to bring me a Christmas tree, but also a lot of presents.
I grew up just with my mom, and even though she was a single parent, she never made me feel like something was missing. What I’ve noticed when I moved to the United States is that everybody is decorating their houses starting at the end of November. In Romania we were only having our tree up right before Christmas Eve.
Many times as I was growing up my mom was telling me to behave well, because Santa is passing by our window. And if I’m not a good girl, he is not going to bring too many presents. After I got my present at my house, I went to my cousins and my grandparents, because I knew there was something waiting for me there as well.
Another beautiful tradition that I remember and really miss, is that me and my friends or classmates we were gathering on Christmas Eve night and we were walking in the town, going to each of our houses to sing Christmas Carols. Their parents would then give us sweets and food. On the other hand there were a lot of kids knocking on the door asking if they can sing some Christmas carols. Expecting some food or even money in exchange. All that you could hear during that night were Christmas carols on the streets.
The most popular dish in Romania during the holidays are ‘sarmale’ which means stuffed cabbage. My mom is excellent at making cakes so every time Christmas was around she was baking close to 10 pieces. They were laying all over the house.
This is also because I have been working every single year during this time. I am not married and I have no kids, otherwise I think it would have been very hard to be away from them. Since my family is still in Romania, I had to cook everything by myself.
Overall I miss the Christmas atmosphere from back home. The Christmas carols in our national language, were a lot of artists are traveling from town to town having concerts. TV stations and radio stations are playing a lot of this music. I like American Christmas carols a lot, but just because I grew up in Europe, I feel the holiday a little more intense when I listen to the Romanian music.
Here in America Christmas lasts for one day, December 25th. In Romania, as orthodox are celebrating it for 3 days. We keep the tree until January 7, when we celebrate Saint John the Baptist.
Connect with Diana: