7 Tips to Mixing Faiths & Cultures in Your Holiday Celebration

Dec 06, 2016

When I was a kid, my Catholic family got together on Christmas Eve for a two-day event. My Jewish cousins and uncle would attend too and we would decorate with both a Christmas tree and a menorah. At dinner, my uncle was always gave a Hebrew blessing over our meal.

For me, this sparked an interest in Judaism and later helped me to learn more about it as I studied it from a Christian angle. In fact, I always felt badly about the Christmas gifts, until my cousins explained, not too graciously, that Hanukkah offered them 8 days of gifts!

7 Tips for Mixing Faiths in Your Holiday Celebration

If your family is mixing faiths and cultures during this year’s holiday celebrations, take some time to make this a memorable event for everyone that fosters family, friendship and diversity. Here are 7 tips to help you get started.

  1. Have loved ones share their faith.
    One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t understand my uncle’s culture better. Don’t let this happen to your children. Explaining someone else’s religion to a child may seem challenging but don’t do it alone: Ask your loved one to share their faith. This is a great way to encourage your child to bond with loved ones you might not see often and it’s also a good opportunity to teach them about diversity.
  2. Make sure not to offend anyone.
    Religion can be a thorny topic and some people might be offended by sharing religious holidays with other faiths. Respect their position. Explain what you plan on doing and serving at your holiday event and politely ask them how or what you can do to make them feel comfortable. Keep in mind that they may choose not to come. Rather than feeling offended, offer to celebrate with them in another way.
  3. Find common ground.
    Family gatherings, communal meals, music and games may look a little different to each but are a great start for finding common ground. For example, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah all have candle lighting events and most celebrants do gift exchanges. Look for the similarities in your holiday traditions and start from there.
  4. Share unique traditions.
    I love discovering new traditions from other cultures. Start with unexplored customs from your family’s own holiday. Then, ask loved ones about what unique traditions that represent their holiday or what their grandparents or ancestors did that they don’t do anymore. For example, I had never heard of the Christmas pickle tradition until I moved to Pennsylvania but it can be quite a lot of fun! Mixing a variety of cultural festivities creates a more engaging holiday event.
  5. Represent the food from each culture.
    Food is one of the best ways to find common ground. After all, everyone loves to eat! For example, traditional dishes for a Kwanzaa celebration include peanuts, sweet potatoes, collard greens and spicy sauces. Hanukkah traditions often include brisket and potato latkes. One of my favorite New Year’s Eve traditions comes from Spain, where participants eat 12 grapes at midnight for luck and prosperity in the New Year. What special foods mark the traditions of your friends and family?
  6. Be creative with gift giving.
    If anyone has unique gift giving traditions that reflect their culture or faith, try to incorporate those ideas into your event. Giving out English Christmas crackers, for example, is a unique way to present gifts. One of my own favorite gift giving traditions is a White Elephant gift exchange, which focuses on game play and participation rather than getting the best gift.
  7. Create your own traditions.
    Even if your holiday is centered on religion, you can create inclusive traditions for your gatherings. Employ games, music and storytelling to create an event that your family and friends will treasure. Many holidays focus on a season – spring for harvest, winter for keeping out the cold – and you can use that as a focal point for your celebration. For example, you can host a “Winter Solstice” party and invite guests to bring hot foods, break out the ugly sweaters and exchange gifts that will keep guests warm.

Sharing the holidays with loved ones is a perfect way to unplug, and a great time to limit screen time for both parent and child. Instead, take this time to connect in person to learn more about the faith and culture of people who are important to your family. A diverse holiday celebration can help explain other religions to a child and build deeper relationships as everyone shares what is sacred to them.