How to Tackle the Holidays in a Mixed-Culture Family

Hello, hi, ciao, salam! Holy shit, folks, it’s December and in my insane multicultural family we have about a thousand traditions. And this year, now that we have a toddler, I’m trying to nail down which ones we keep and which ones we don’t and find a balance between “chill and relaxing with hot cocoa” and “see everyone, make all the things, what is sleep?” The key, for us, is to plan ahead, and keep in mind that the world won’t end if we don’t get to something or we have to half-ass something else. It’s supposed to be fun, right? Right. (HAHAHAHAHA, I KNOW).

For the holiday season my husband and I celebrate Yalda and the Winter Solstice, Christmas, New Years, and Befana. It’s a lot. It’s a lot for parents and it’s a lot for kids. So we’re trying to pick and choose a few special things from each holiday and make it fun for our family and little without it being too overwhelming. Since our son isn’t even two yet, we’re at that fun stage where we get to really map out the things he’s going to grow up with which is so exciting and you know, no pressure, just being the architect of someone’s entire childhood. (Internal scream).

I’d love to hear about your traditions. What does your family do? If you’re from a multicultural family, how have you narrowed it down? Did you pick and choose? Tell me all the things! I’m searching for new ideas to fill this time with fun and magic and love and giving back.

So far here are the traditions we’ll keep. Let me know your thoughts.

YALDA

Yalda is a winter solstice celebration; it is the last night of autumn and the longest night of the year. Yalda means birth and it refers to the birth of Mitra; the goddess of light. My little sister is named Mitra and we also celebrate her in September, the month she came into the world ass-first and screaming.

Why do Persians celebrate winter solstice? Glad you asked! Long before Islam was forced on Persia after the Arab tribes took over the land that was the Persian Empire, the Persians were Zorastrian. They celebrated all of the seasons, and the four elements of earth, wind, fire, and water. Zorastrianism was the first eco-religion, harming the planet was the highest sin, and it dates back to about as far as Judaism. Like Judaism, it was also a monotheistic (one God) religion and they believed in a sort of duality of good and bad. Persians were forced to convert to Islam and either die or face unbearable taxes but many of them continued to celebrate their own holidays. In fact, even in modern day Iran, the old holidays are still some of the largest in the country.

YALDA TRADITIONS

According to Wikipedia, “The longest and darkest night of the year is a time when friends and family gather together to eat, drink and read poetry (especially Hafez) until well after midnight. Fruits and nuts are eaten and pomegranates and watermelons are particularly significant.”

Usually in my family my dad makes Persian dinner and we eat and drink wine and tea and snack. Sometimes he reads to us. Often he takes advantage of his captive audience to dive into his favorite conspiracy of the moment of which he learned from a chain email and believes completely. My siblings and I take turns arguing for a while before giving up and sharing “ugh make it stop” looks to each other for the rest of the night. Except for my youngest sister who is sixteen and only cares about Snapchat and keeps her face in her phone 24/7. Sometimes he cajoles my sister and I into performing and doing very old-school dances he has seen Iranian women do on YouTube. Surprise, we are not good at it. Often we’re very flex on the actual day that we celebrate this and it doesn’t often fall on the real solstice but sometime the same week. This is because my lil bro is in college, lil sis is in high school, and my steppy mum owns a business. They’re busy.

WINTER SOLSTICE

The Solstice is the same day/night as Yalda. The only reason I separate the two is that we spend Yalda with my dad doing very Persian things and the Solstice we have our own separate things. “The winter solstice, hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice, also known as midwinter, occurs when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun.” It’s the longest and darkest day of the year and is basically an excuse for me to day drink wine in between fun activities that I enjoy while F looks checked out and annoyed that lasagne isn’t involved in some way.

WINTER SOLSTICE TRADITIONS

Clean–Since the solstice is marking the longest and darkest day and celebrating the return of light, I like to clean the house, donate all unwanted things or clothes, and donate our dogs old toys to the local shelters. Out with the old, in with the new, out with the dark, in with the light. LALALALALA.

Give–Donate money or wishlist items to local charities. I’ve been working on a document for about a billion months with a good friend that has a list of local Utah places that need help and I’ll post it here this week.

Celebrate Loved Ones–Bring food and beverages to neighbors and friends and folks in the community who need a little extra love and support like transplants or struggling families or single parents or older folks.

Solstice Alter–Set up a solstice alter with candles and things to end bad cycles and bring good fortune and health. The candles also bring warmth and light into the darkest and longest night and celebrate the return of the sun. Plus it’s cute. Winning.

Wishes–I Put up our tree on December first and decorate it. But during the Solstice it’s fun to add wishes to the tree in little glass bulbs and also things we’d like to let go of. I burn the things to let go of on new years and bury the wishes in the flower garden. This is a thing I made up but there are variations of it from all cultures.

Give back to nature–We donate to an environmental cause and spend some time outdoors appreciating this wonderful world we live in and put out some bird/squirrel seed. Sometimes we go Ice Skating, sledding, or literally just hang at the park with a hot beverage.

Drink & Be Merry–Throw a party to celebrate those you love. Before Covid my street had a party where each house prepared something special to eat and drink and we’d spend the entire night walking from home to home and snacking and drinking and dancing and laughing until two a.m. I also have many friends who only celebrate the Solstice and not Christmas and so this is the time that we exchange gifts.

CHRISTMAS

According to the Wikipedia, “Christmas (or Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world.” Francesco is Italian and like 99% of them, he grew up Catholic. My mom’s family is not particularly religious but they’re American and they celebrate Christmas like many Americans. Francesco and I are not religious at all but we grew up with the holidays and they make us feel warm and fuzzy and nostalgic and the more fun the merrier, right?

CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS

Fish On Friday–This is Francesco’s favorite part of the holidays for sure because food. On Christmas eve, Catholic Italians eat fish. And they have a MASSIVE feast of like ninety-two courses (Okay it’s like 9 but that’s so much). So we drink wine and cook an enormous meal and have a friend or two over. It’s always fun because we make something new every year and we listen to music and sip cocktails. This year it will be extra special because Leo can help us cook.

New Pajamas–My mom always bought us a new pair of pj’s every Christmas and we’d open them on Christmas eve along with one tiny gift. Francesco and I also do this but instead of a small gift we open a new book that we get to read over the holiday break. At least, that happened before kids. Now we will most likely just read Leo’s new book to him 34,000 times over the break.

Christmas Morning–We get up at the crack of dawn, make coffee, and try to prevent our demon poodle from ripping his stocking off of the wall until we’ve had a chance to sit down. Then we sit around the tree with some relaxing music and open gifts. When we were little, both of our parents did the Santa thing, but F and I are on the fence about it. We love the way that Santa makes Christmas super magical, what with all the breaking and entering and gift giving. We don’t love the way that it seems significantly less special after they stop believing and also how do you explain kids who don’t get things from Santa because of poverty etc.? So if you have any tips or thoughts on the Santa decision please tell me. Did you do Santa? Did you opt out of it? Why? How did that work? I’ve been toying with the idea of saying that Santa is the spirit of the holidays, like kindness and cheer, but not a real person. Is that weird?

Breakfast Sweets–I make something sweet as hell for breakfast like cinnamon rolls or french toast. This comes from my stepmom who always made some kind of sweet bake in the morning and I always loved it. It’s warm and cozy, you have coffee, and a shit load of sugar, and happy music. I’ll probably start a pancake board or french toast board tradition because Leo LOVES cooking pancakes with us. Plus he’d snort sugar if we let him.

Lasagna–Francesco makes lasagna a few days before Christmas so we can have it for lunch. A big lasagna lunch is typical in the part of Italy he’s from and it’s his favorite part of the day since he hates gifts, holidays in general, and basically only lives to eat.

Family & Friends–In years past we have bundled up and gone to visit family or close friends but this year will be a lot different. My grandfather moved on (he passed away). My dad doesn’t believe in the pandemic and my mom and stepdad are high risk. So it looks like we’ll be hunkered down right here at home, waving to my neighbor through her window because we can both see directly into each other’s houses and instead of being weirded out by the lack of privacy we’re both weirdly comforted by it.

BEFANA

“According to Italian traditions, Befana is an old woman who gives presents throughout the country on the night of January 5, also known as the Epiphany Eve. By giving out gifts, the lady is often compared to Santa Claus. 

Many people believe that the name Befana originates from the Feast of Epiphany.  Others have the belief that Befana is a descendant of Strenia, a goddess of the Romans.”–Italy Magazine 

Befana basically looks like a jolly witch and you can find stockings being sold throughout Italy with the picture of a woman on a broomstick on them. I was very confused when I first saw them the first year I lived in Italy.

BEFANA TRADITIONS

Typically, a child hangs a stocking and Befana breaks into your home and cleans your house and fills it with goodies and gifts. Since we already do stockings on Christmas, we just leave a small treat or gift out for eachother and Oliver and Leo. Usually just something we can have with breakfast because this is also Leo’s birthday week and from the beginning of December to the first week of January we are absolutely slammed so we have to make cuts somewhere. Sorry, Befana.

AAAAAAND that’s a wrap, folks. What do yall celebrate? Give me tips, ideas, fun things to try, new ways to give back, and any ideas for pandemic celebrations. Share the post if you’re feeling fancy.

4 thoughts on “How to Tackle the Holidays in a Mixed-Culture Family

  1. I feel like not overcomplicating things is a way to go. I mean, holidays should be fun, right? If it starts to become more stress than fun, maybe it’s time to cut it and keep the traditions that you really can’t wait for. Maybe. I don’t have kids and I’m terrified even thinking about how to raise them so they could be part of both cultures 😄
    About Santa – someone recently told me they said to their kid: “Santa is real if you believe he is, so as long as you believe he is real, he is” Something along those lines, I thought it was a beautiful way of looking at it.

    1. Definitely agree that keeping it simple is good, even tho this list isn’t simple. Haha yeah, I felt the same way for a long time. I like that Santa idea, that’s cute! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Aww I posted a big long comment here last Friday but it looks like it never published. (In fairness your comments thing might’ve thought it was a novel and rejected it.) Anyway just know I hear you!

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