I LOVE this time of year. The sense of familiarity and comfort that comes from honoring age-old traditions reassures us that all is well in the world. Today we brought home our family’s annual Christmas tree. We hung the handmade ornaments: the snowmen with all the fake snow worn off, the glass balls sans the glitter, and various tarnished silver and gold Santa and angel decorations. As each one was unearthed from the big storage bin, a little flicker of warmth went through my heart. I recalled the same feeling from my childhood when the decorations were newer and I was much younger – the ornaments are a part of my history – they are a part of me!
I learned at a very early age in Denmark how to successfully blend cultures and create traditions fit for future generations. You see, my mom is Danish and my dad was American. Now I am living in America and married to an American of Norwegian decent. The Scandinavian blood runs thick in our American veins. Christmas, especially, has always been a great time of year for our family to showcase our ability to honor each other’s heritage and legacies, while creating a new identity and history. I know this subject can be a sore subject for many families. As cultures cross paths and traditions mingle the lines become muddied, at best.
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Successful ways to blend cultures while maintaining your identity and honoring history:
- So your husband’s family dances polka at every large family gathering. They even have their own choreographed steps. Embrace it and take a few dance lessons, so you can surprise them next time by joining in the dance.
- If you can’t beat them, join them! Remember that you married him for better or for worse – and although polka falls under the “worse” category, you can still make the most of it!
2. Be flexible!
- Who says Christmas has to be celebrated on December 24th or the 25th every single year?! Take it from someone who grew up with TWO Christmases and TWO visits from Santa (the Danish “julemand” paid us a visit Christmas Eve and then Santa stopped by again on the 25th on his way back to the North Pole.)
- Kids embrace traditions and accept them for the comfort they provide – and no one is going to complain over two Holidays if that is what it takes to make the logistics work between both sides of the family
- Remember that traditions and activities that flowed well for your family may not be appropriate for your kids in 10 – 15 years. Please don’t insist on taking your teenage kids to see Santa when they are too heavy for his lap! Letting go is OK! Sometimes change is GOOD!
3. Acknowledge & Celebrate the Differences!
- Don’t sweep the obvious diversities under the rug, or act like they don’t exist. Point them out to your kids and talk about them.
- Discuss faith-based variations. Kids are as accepting as we allow them to be. They will understand that one set of grandparents don’t celebrate Christmas because their beliefs are not the same as yours. Just be prepared to answer all your kids’ questions.
- Introduce your children to the food, music, holidays, history, traditions, beliefs, sights and sounds from both sides of the family.
- Consider serving new dishes during a tradition-filled meal and introducing your extended family to your new blended culture.
4. Embrace the Teaching Moments!
- Take the opportunity to speak openly with your kids about your faith, other people’s faith and how they may differ.
- Describe how the world looked when their grandparents were kids, how they were raised and which traditions they had.
- Decide together with your kids if there are any new traditions you would like to try to incorporate into your holiday celebrations.
5. Don’t Keep Score!
- If your husband’s culture is stronger and more tradition-based than yours, consider leaning on his family for structure during the Holidays – or vice versa.
- As you well know, not everything in a partnership will be 50/50, perhaps you “concede” for the Holidays and then he is flexible another time of year.
6. Have a Good Sense of Humor!
- My husband’s late aunt told us at our wedding reception that the secret to her long marriage was “a good sense of humor.” – And why not, laughing sure beats crying or arguing!
- When all else fails – laugh, have a little fun at your own expense, don’t take things too seriously.
- My late father was the best at this. He might not always have understood the Danish Christmas customs, but he sure embraced them. He danced around the Christmas with the rest of us. He sang Danish Christmas carols to his heart’s content (in English) – loud and off key – but the only thing that mattered was that he had fun, we all laughed and made memories – thankfully enough to last us a life time.
This Holiday season, I wish you and your extended family fun and happiness as you work together to celebrate your blended culture and family dynamics. I challenge you to integrate a new tradition from each of your childhoods – and if it’s not a raging success: shake it off, chalk it up to experience, and show your kids that not everything in life works out perfectly! Hopefully that will be the end of your polka dancing career!
What tradition have you introduced to your family with great success?